Republican lawmakers have failed in dozens of attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows just how difficult they have made it for President Obama’s signature legislative achievement to succeed.
As the health care exchanges at the heart of the law open for enrollment in two weeks, the public’s views of it are as negative as they have ever been, and disapproval of the president’s handling of health care has hit a new high. Confusion and misinformation about the law haven’t significantly abated, especially among the law’s main targets.
Among the 19% polled who are uninsured, nearly four in 10 don’t realize the law requires them to get health insurance next year. Among young people, whose participation is seen as crucial for the exchanges to work, just 56% realize there’s a mandate to be insured or face a fine.
And in the states that have refused to participate in the insurance marketplaces — defaulting instead to the federal exchange — knowledge about the Affordable Care Act and support for it are notably lower than in states that are setting up their own exchanges.
“There has been a full-court press from Day One from the opposition to characterize and demonize the plan,” says Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, who wrote about the GOP efforts in a 2012 book about Washington he co-authored, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. “The campaign against the law after it was enacted, the range of steps taken, the effort to delegitimize it — it is unprecedented. We’d probably have to go back to the nullification efforts of the Southern states in the pre-Civil War period to find anything of this intensity.”
Opponents say the law’s own shortcomings are responsible for its travails. “This program is not ready for prime time,” says Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., chief sponsor of a bill passed by the U.S. House last week to delay the exchanges until additional anti-fraud measures are put in place. (Like dozens of previous House-passed measures on Obamacare, it isn’t expected to pass the Senate.)
When Obama signed the law more than three years ago, supporters predicted Americans would embrace it as some of the most popular provisions went into effect, including measures that have helped seniors pay prescription costs, protected children who have serious medical conditions and enabled young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.
But that turnaround in public opinion hasn’t happened, at least not yet. Now the biggest test for the Affordable Care Act looms in two weeks, when the marketplaces for the uninsured are scheduled to open for enrollment on Oct. 1.