WASHINGTON – President Obama continues to tout what the White House views as the success of the Affordable Care Act after exceeding its health insurance enrollment goals but Republicans are continuing the search for soft spots to attack in a law they maintain remains unpopular with the public.
The administration has taken an extended home run trot since it was revealed on April 1 that 7.1 million Americans had signed up for private insurance coverage under what is popularly known as Obamacare. That number doesn’t include another 4.5 million people who qualify for Medicaid under the law and 3 million aged 26 or under covered by their parents’ healthcare plans.
Since then, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined that “12 million more nonelderly people will have health insurance in 2014 than would have had it in the absence of the ACA” and that the program will have “a net cost of $36 billion for 2014, $5 billion less than the previous projection for the year; and $1,383 billion for the 2015–2024 period.”
Bolstered by what the administration considers good news, Obama was sufficiently confident to assert recently that “the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
“In the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security,” Obama said. “Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America’s progress or our people. And that’s what the Affordable Care Act represents. As messy as it’s been sometimes, as contentious as it’s been sometimes, it is progress. It is making sure that we are not the only advanced country on earth that doesn’t make sure everybody has basic healthcare.”
Obamacare has never carried the support of a majority of Americans and Republicans plan to use that in the approaching November elections. But recent polls indicate a possible thaw. An ABC News/Washington Post poll, conducted March 26-30, showed for the first time support outpacing opposition with 49 percent expressing approval and 48 percent continuing to oppose. That’s up from last November when 40 percent approved and 57 percent disapproved.
A bipartisan National Public Radio poll released earlier this week continued to show public dissatisfaction but the margins are narrowing – 47 percent said they favor the law while 51 percent oppose.
A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll released in late March found that support for repealing the law and demands that the debate continue are a Republican thing. But all that news is coupled with other surveys, like the one released last week by Pew Research, showing that only 37 percent of those questioned approve of the law while 50 percent oppose.
Congressional Republicans have been relatively tepid in their response to the enrollment news.
“We don’t know of course, exactly what they have signed up for,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. “We don’t know how many have paid. What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare. Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, they are discovering, of course, higher premiums, a higher deductible. Many of them are losing their jobs and so it is really is a catastrophe for the country, both for the healthcare providers and the consumers.”
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, challenged the White House, asserting that “billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. Five million Americans have received cancellation notices. Only a small percentage of the uninsured have signed up. Is that really success?”
House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, said the White House celebration “showed just how out of touch his administration is with hard-working families.” The lower chamber has attempted to repeal the law at least 50 times since its 2010 passage.
“As I’ve said many times, Republicans will continue working to scrap this law and pave the way for patient-centered solutions focused on lowering healthcare costs and protecting jobs,” Boehner said.
The speaker indicated the GOP will continue to attack the law as a jobs killer, citing a Duke University survey that found nearly half of U.S. companies are reluctant to hire full-time employees because of Obamacare. The CBO estimates that the president’s healthcare law “will cost the nation the equivalent of 2.5 million workers in the next decade.” Median wages have declined during the president’s tenure and, according to Boehner, “three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.”
The attack has some business support. Appearing on Fox News, Bernie Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot chain, said “the effects of Obamacare are out there.”
“You don’t see it — you don’t hear it,” Marcus said. “But small-business people are reacting and what they’re doing is, very simply, number one, they’re not hiring people. Number two, they’re putting people on part-time. And, number three, even worse — even worse than that, they’re creating a situation where they could do without — without people.”
The first example of the Republican strategy to paint Obamacare as a jobs killer came April 3 when the House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) changing the definition of a full-time worker in the Affordable Care Act from 30 hours a week to 40. Eighteen Democrats crossed the aisle to support the bill.
That provision was included to expand the number of workers eligible for health insurance once large corporations are required to provide the benefit under the law beginning in 2015. Companies with 50 or more full-time workers will be required under the law to provide health insurance to their workers.
Republicans assert that the law is serving as an incentive for companies to cut an employee’s work hours to below that 30-hour mark to reduce the number of full-time employees on staff. The Hoover Institute estimates the number of at-risk employees stands at 2.6 million, largely focused on retail, service, and manufacturing sectors.
“Millions of hourly workers face as much as a 25 percent pay cut as a result of Obamacare,” Young said. “These are all Americans who want to work, but are dealing with the unintended consequences of this healthcare law. By simply repealing this provision and restoring the traditional 40-hour work week, we can help make an America that works.”
Boehner cited a Hoover Institution analysis that claimed the 30-hour rule places 2.6 million Americans earning less than $30,000 a year at risk of having their hours and their wages cut. Of that 2.6 million, 63 percent are women, nearly 90 percent do not have a college degree and 60 percent are aged 19 to 34.
The Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to even consider the measure but Republicans are placing pressure on those seeking re-election this year – like Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) — to prevail on Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada.
“Business and labor both agree Obamacare’s 30-hour work rule is hurting wage earners by drastically slashing their hours and pay,” said RNC spokesman Michael Short. “So if Mark Warner is serious about backing up his talk on wages and Obamacare, he should demand Harry Reid bring the bipartisan legislation repealing this onerous regulation to the floor for a vote. Will Mark Warner do right by Virginia workers or will he once again side with President Obama to protect Obamacare?”
“The last thing our economy and our small businesses can afford is another barrier to job growth,” Boehner said.