Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made waves during his speech at the National Press Club in Washington DC this week, when he expressed that passing health care reform had been the wrong move for Democrats because it did not help middle-class Americans. The remarks come as a surprise not only because Schumer was one of the Affordable Care Act’s biggest proponents during the legislative effort to pass the bill, but also because they seem to contradict the situation on the ground in Schumer’s own state.
“Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them,” Schumer said in his speech “We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.” The senator went on to say that only about a third of the previously uninsured population are registered to vote, and that focusing on benefiting such a small percentage of the electorate was a political miscalculation. “When Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, ‘The Democrats aren’t paying enough attention to me,’” he continued.
Schumer’s notion that Obamacare only benefits those in the lower end of the economic spectrum is a flawed one. It is also in direct conflict with the Chuck Schumer of 2010, who campaigned incessantly for health care reform, and insisted that the policy “really did deliver for the middle-class.”
It is true that most of the people who were uninsured were poor, and therefore the new law’s main beneficiaries tended to be lower income. But to make the argument, as Schumer did, that middle-class Americans saw no benefits from Obamacare ignores some key aspects of the law
Middle-income Americans benefitted from tax credits and health care subsidies. The also benefited from parts of the law that secured insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and allowed young people to stay on their parents insurance until the age of 26.
Perhaps the most significant way in which Obamacare has helped middle-class Americans is the effect that it has had on the cost of health insurance. In New York — Schumer’s home state — the previously unchecked rise in premiums has been slowing overall ever since the law was enacted, with many people actually enjoying a significant drop in price. New Yorkers enrolled in the state’s health care exchange pay as much as 50 percent less than they had for policies in the individual health care market.
“[Health Care] costs do go up and you would expect premiums to go up to offset those costs,” Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group told the New York Daily News. “I think the Affordable Care Act experiment continues, but the initial diagnosis is a good one.”
Regardless of Schumer’s belief that health care reform was a political miscalculation, it has benefited his middle-class constituents, as well as his lower-income ones.