Campaign to Kill Obamacare Is More About Politics than Health Policy

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I am indebted to Rogan Kersh, a Professor of Public Policy and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at New York University, for clarifying something about the well-organized and well-funded campaign to repeal the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which continues night and day under a full head of steam, two years after the bill was enacted.

You may not recognize this legislation by its proper name, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but you surely know it by the derisive label Republicans apply to it: Obamacare.

The PPACA was the cause that Barack Obama gave the first year of his presidency to, at great political cost. Its enactment was an accomplishment of unquestionable historical and social significance, for it brought into existence a program, universal health care, that is every bit as important and far-reaching as Franklin Roosevelt's Social Security was in the Thirties and Lyndon Johnson's Medicare was in the Sixties.

Unfortunately for Obama and his fellow Democrats, universal health care has not been met with universal acceptance. Polls today indicate that more than half of the American population does not like the PPACA, and is so apprehensive about the implications of the bill that they favor repeal, despite the fact that some features of the bill, such as the one that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing illness, enjoy overwhelming public support.

Obama and the Democrats can be faulted for not selling the benefits of the PPACA better to the public. Yes, it's an incredibly large, mind-numbingly-complex program that is slowly rolling out as a result of the bill, but there are some very compelling points that could be made in speeches and in advertisements about the virtues of the PPACA. Where, for example, is the TV ad from the Democrats that has an actor playing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who cheerily informs a young cancer patient she won't be able to get coverage when his Repeal-Obamacare team wins the game?

So blame the bill itself for some of its unpopularity and much of the confusion that surrounds it. And blame the innate fears of Americans like me, who already have insurance, who like our health plans, who don't want them to change, and who worry they'll come out of this vast new social experiment with diminished, more costly insurance. But don't forget to blame the Republican Party, too, for doing everything within its power to exploit our fears and undermine Obamacare while never offering a serious alternative.

During a Rappaport Center Roundtable discussion this week at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Professor Kersh pointed out three simple facts about the highly unusual, post-enactment battle that has erupted around the PPACA:

One, not a single Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate voted for the PPACA.

Two, the PPACA, despite its flaws and inauspicious start, has the potential one day to be as popular as Social Security and Medicare are today in the U.S.

Three, Republicans realize that great potential popularity and are deathly afraid their unanimous opposition to the bill will subject their party to a devastating, long-lasting voter backlash, 10 or 20 or more years down the line.

Imagine the PPACA withstands the multiple challenges it now faces, and imagine that voters over time come to understand and experience and depend upon the benefits of the law. If so, voters will come to appreciate the Democrats for making this great, new program possible; and Democrats will be able, as a result, to stick it to the Republicans for years ever after. ("Just remember, folks, the Republicans didn't want you and your family to have health care.")

That dynamic may go a long way to explaining why Republicans are damned and determined to kill the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in its crib.


Meanwhile, things are fairly quiet in Massachusetts, which has had its own unique system of universal health coverage since 2006, a program, by the way, that has very high favorability ratings despite the fact that it has not brought down the cost of health care.

However, there is a group in Massachusetts that wants to repeal the state's mandate requiring individuals to obtain health insurance and it has reportedly collected the signatures of approximately 40,000 residents who favor putting the repeal question on next November's ballot.

For the ballot initiative to be successful, the group will have to collect nearly 30,000 additional signatures before the filing deadline of Wednesday, Nov. 30. That won't be easy in the diminishing daylight hours of our eleventh month, and if bad weather comes along, it will be especially difficult.

Where is one of those late-fall blizzards when you need one?

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