CREDIT: Charles Dharapak/AP
A new poll released on Wednesday finds that uninsured Americans are increasingly interested in Obamacare, despite the ongoing technological problems plaguing the websites that allow them to sign up for health insurance plans. The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 42 percent of Americans who currently lack insurance intend to enroll in a plan under Obamacare — a slight uptick from last month, when 37 percent of that population indicated they wanted to enroll. Overall public support for the health reform law also rose from 44 percent to 47 percent.
And that’s just the latest poll to find that Obamacare isn’t losing ground among the public, despite a month of headlines that have bemoaned its exchanges as a total disaster and warned Americans that it may cause them to get booted from their current insurance plan. At the end of last month, a Gallup poll found that Americans were “slightly more positive” about the health reform law after three weeks of its rocky roll-out than they were right before the exchanges launched. Around the same time, both a Washington Post poll and a Pew Research Center poll found that public opinion about Obamacare hadn’t taken a nosedive despite the frustrating issues with the website glitches.
In all of that polling, respondents tend to agree that it’s been a bad roll-out. So why isn’t support for the law completely tanking?
One of the Ipsos pollsters, Chris Jackson, offered up a plausible theory: Americans are finally having a personal experience with health reform. “The launch of the exchanges, that’s the first real world event for a lot of people,” he told Reuters. “There’s been this sense that once people got familiar with it, public opinion would start to move in its direction.”
At least so far, that point about health reform has seemed to hold true. Since “Obamacare” has become a politically-charged buzzword, the law doesn’t really poll well as a whole, and most Americans say they don’t like it. But they do like its individual provisions — often without initially realizing those benefits are a direct result of the health reform law they hate so much. Once they figure out what Obamacare can do for them, even some of the law’s most passionate opponents have ended up changing their minds.
People with employer-sponsored health insurance have already interacted with some of the benefits put in place by Obamacare, like no-cost preventative services and increased consumer protections. But the beginning of the exchanges’ open enrollment period was a massive expansion of the pool of people who stand to directly benefit from health reform, which has allowed even more Americans to have that “personal experience” that Jackson referenced. It makes sense that’s preventing Obamacare’s approval from plummeting, despite a roll-out that’s been widely panned.
The Republicans who continue to crusade against Obamacare are well aware of this reality. On Wednesday morning, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) — who has taken one of the most hardline stances against health reform, continually introducing measures to repeal the whole thing — acknowledged that the people in his state probably aren’t ardently opposed to Obamacare. “The charts that I’m seeing show that Iowa is one of the states that has some of the lowest percentage premium increases… And so the intensity of our pushback here will probably be in proportion to the premium increases that we get,” he noted. In other words, they like it because they’re having a positive experience with it so far.
And those positive experiences with Obamacare are certainly happening, even if the media isn’t trumpeting those stories. As the New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait notes, the mainstream media has somewhat obsessively focused on the Americans who are have negative things to say about the law — the people who are locked out of the website because of glitches, and, most recently, the people who have received cancellation letters from insurers and will need to enroll in a new plan under Obamacare. Chait points out that headlines about individual, negatives stories (“Florida Woman Facing Higher Costs”) are always more attractive to the press than less personal accounts of success (“Millions Set to Gain Low-Cost Insurance”).
The apparent disconnect between media coverage and public opinion may also be driven by the fact that the media tends to use “Obamacare” as a shorthand to talk about the law’s insurance exchanges. Over the past month, President Obama has reiterated that the law is bigger than a website — and it’s actually bigger than the exchanges themselves, too. The expansion of the Medicaid program to cover additional low-income Americans is another huge component of Obamacare, and one that’s been running a lot more smoothly so far than the exchange sites. Many of the Americans who have had the best experiences with Obamacare so far are the poor people who have been locked out of the insurance industry altogether until this point. But in general, as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting notes, those Medicaid success stories aren’t getting told in the press — or they’re told from a negative angle.
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t serious problems with the exchanges’ bumpy roll-out. There are, and the website glitches are frustrating many of the uninsured Americans who are currently attempting to enroll in plans. But even those people haven’t indicated that the website problems are leading them to give up on health reform altogether — most of them say they want to keep trying to sign up. Assuming the websites actually improve and they eventually manage to do so, they’ll likely add to the growing number of Americans who have something positive to say about Obamacare. And public support could keep ticking up, confounding the Republicans who are insistent on declaring the whole thing to be a hopeless train wreck.