With the full implementation of Obamacare looming on the horizon, the White House and Republicans are engaged in an epic public relations battle over the perception of the health law.
“It’s a very important battle and both sides are trying to come out on top,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and CNN contributor. “The first stage was about whether this passes or not. … Now the battle is over implementing it and there are all sorts of ways Republicans are trying to cause problems.”
It’s not clear which side is winning the PR battle. The most recent CNN poll found that only 43 percent of the public “supports the health care law.” But upon closer inspection, the results indicated that 16 percent of Americans, about a third of those who “oppose the health care law,” do so because they felt it doesn’t go far enough. That means 59 percent of the public either supports the law or thinks it should be even more liberal.
The White House got a huge boost from California, which released the amount it would charge for premiums through the state’s exchanges, as required by the Affordable Care Act. The premiums were as much as half the price of what was initially expected, with an average of $304 monthly for the cheapest silver-level plan and the most basic plans coming in at as low as $700 a year.
That was devastating news for Republicans hoping the plans would be prohibitively expensive and lead to public outrage. It was also bad news for the many Republican-led states — such as most of the South —who are refusing to participate in even the process of setting up the exchanges.
If states like California can create exchanges with cheap but effective plans, it will put enormous pressure on those states that are trying to resist participating.
In effect, the Republican opposition seems to consist of doing everything possible to make the program fail—a plan that easily could backfire on them if Obamacare is widely embraced by the public.
As Aaron Carroll pointed out on CNN.com, this refusal to implement major legislation is a new phenomenon.
“This is a relatively new thing when it comes to major legislation,” he writes. “Past laws on this scale, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, and Social Security were amended and changed years and even months after being passed.
“That’s incredibly unlikely to happen with respect to Obamacare…If, a year from now, it appears that exchanges are working out in states that embraced them, and that the Medicaid expansion is succeeding in states that allowed it, then it may turn out that refusing to bend may have instead caused the opposition to break.”
Republicans are making a bet that the collapse of Obamacare will be a big boon to the party next year during the 2014 midterm elections. But the success of Obamacare would be a huge lift to the Democrats and Obama’s legacy.
“We’ve got to make sure everybody has good health in this country,” Obama said at Morehouse College’s commencement ceremonies recently. “It’s not just good for you, it’s good for this country. So you’re going to have to spread the word to your fellow young people.”