Politics & Policy

GOP Wastes Obamacare Opportunity

They should be gaining politically from attacking bad policies.

A new poll released last week shows that support for Obamacare has reached an all-time low. According to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has traditionally found more support for the health-care law than other groups, just 34 percent of Americans now support the law. In fact, barely half of Democrats support the signature achievement of a Democratic president.

It’s not hard to see why. Among the revelations in recent weeks:

Insurance premiums are rising. President Obama once promised that the health-care bill would save each of us as much as $2,500 annually on our premiums. But a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows family premiums increasing by a whopping 9 percent this year, three times more than the previous year’s increase. The average family policy now costs more than $15,000 per year. Not only has Obamacare failed to slow premium growth, but at least two percentage points of that increase is directly attributable to the health-care law’s provisions.

Consumers have fewer choices. Obamacare is driving insurance companies out of the market, meaning there will be less competition and fewer choices. Just last month, two health-insurance companies announced that they were leaving Florida’s individual-insurance market because of provisions in the law, most notably the medical-loss-ratio requirement that insurers must spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care or give customers rebates. And in Iowa, Des Moines–based American Enterprise Group announced last week that it will also pull out of the individual major-medical-insurance market, making it the 13th company to pull out of some portion of Iowa’s health-insurance business since June 2010.

More debt, fewer taxpayers. A new study from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the subsidies in the bill will add $1.36 trillion to the national debt over the first seven years after the bill is fully implemented. And at a time when 47 percent of Americans already pay no income tax, the bill’s tax credits will remove as many as 8.1 million more Americans from the tax rolls.

CLASS Act dies (sort of). And how can we forget that the administration itself had to announce it was pulling the plug on the CLASS Act, the bill’s Ponzi-like long-term-care program? At the same time, however, the administration came out against any effort to actually repeal the program that they believe is actuarially unsound.

Yet Republicans have seemed strangely quiet about the issue of late. So much so, in fact, that the Washington Times was led to wonder if Republicans have “given up” on repeal. There certainly does not appear to be much evidence that Republicans are still making repeal a top priority. The House hasn’t taken a vote on Obamacare since trying to change the bill’s graduate-medical-education funding back in May. There isn’t even an all-out effort to get behind a repeal of the CLASS Act, despite Democratic defections on the issue.

And the Republican presidential candidates have relatively little to say as well. This seems especially odd, given that any Republican not named Mitt Romney should be hammering on the issue almost daily. But lately there seems to be more attention paid to the nationality of Romney’s gardener than to his continued defense of Romneycare.

As for Romney himself, if he hopes to persuade Republican voters that there is a difference between Obamacare and the Massachusetts health plan — and, more important, that he can be trusted to repeal Obamacare — he should be saying so very frequently and very loudly.

This is one of those times when good policy makes good politics. But Republicans seem content to blow this golden opportunity.

— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Michael TannerMr. Tanner is the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Poverty and Inequality in California and the author of The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor.


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