No Obamacare Slogan Is Going to Save Dems
Supporters of the law will never find a winning message for this fall.


Michael Tanner

Since the Republican victory in Florida’s special congressional election last week, Democrats have been struggling with how to bear the electoral albatross that is Obamacare.

Having apparently decided that they cannot run away from the president’s health-care law, and seeing their “mend it don’t end it” strategy come up short in Florida, a growing number of pundits and strategists are now calling for Democrats to trumpet their support for the law.

For example, Democratic strategist Robert Shrum says, “Instead of running away from health reform, [Democrats] have to run on it.” Alec MacGillis, a senior editor at The New Republic, claims, “What Democrats need this year is more Obamacare, not less.” Washington Post columnist Eugene Washington agrees: “Democrats facing close elections this fall should play offense [and] . . . talk about what’s right with Obamacare.”

Which raises the question, what exactly is “right with Obamacare?”

Universal coverage? Robinson says Democrats “should talk about the millions of formerly uninsured Americans who now have coverage.” Except that there aren’t as many of them as you’d think: According to a recent Gallup survey, there were roughly 41.3 million uninsured Americans as of October 1, 2013, when sign-ups for Obamacare began. Since then, roughly 2.8 million Americans found insurance, the survey suggests, reducing the uninsured rate from 17.1 percent to 15.9 percent of American adults. That’s far from universal coverage. In fact, it’s still a bigger share of Americans uninsured than before Obama was elected. Much of that recent progress is likely due to factors besides Obamacare, such as the ongoing economic recovery.

Consider another set of figures: The administration claims that roughly 5 million Americans have signed up for insurance through Obamacare exchanges. That means that if the administration gets really, really lucky over the next twelve days, it might meet its already reduced goal of 6 million enrollments.

But that 5 million number doesn’t tell the whole story: Estimates suggest that only 80 percent of those who have picked a plan have actually paid their first month’s premiums. An additional 3 to 5 percent paid once, but then stopped. Moreover, there is considerable doubt about how many of those signing up through the exchanges were previously uninsured, as opposed to people voluntarily or involuntarily switching plans. According to a report from McKinsey, just 27 percent of those signing up in February were uninsured during the previous year. That’s an improvement over previous surveys, when the rate was only 11 percent, but if that’s true across all the sign-ups, it still suggests that only about 1 million people have gained private insurance because of Obamacare. Worse, just half of the previously uninsured have actually paid their first month’s premium, meaning that we could have as few as 500,000 newly insured.

On the other hand, even the White House admits, at last count, that at least half a million Americans lost their insurance because of Obamacare and were not able to find an affordable replacement.

Now there’s a slogan for Democrats to run on: “We’re spending $41 billion of your money this year and we’ve insured as many people as we’ve uninsured.”


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