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Fear of Obamacare Failure Could Be Self-Fulfilling


Disapproval of Obamacare has hit a new high at perhaps the worst possible time. WSJ reports that 49 percent of Americans now believe the ACA was a “bad idea,” compared to almost 40 percent in 2011. Even more interesting, 43 percent of Americans hold “strongly” to their opposition to the law, which is an unusually low margin between agreement and strong agreement. Of those Americans who now buy insurance individually, 48 percent think they will be “worse off” under the law. This opposition isn’t temporary; it’s deep, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

The timing of this news is especially bad, because from now until January 14 the Obama administration is going to be working overtime convincing young Americans to sign up for insurance. This is key, because, if the healthy don’t opt in, only the sick who consume more care will be left in the system, and premiums will skyrocket. With Americans increasingly distrustful of the ACA, the chances of high youth enrollment aren’t looking so great.

In this sense, opposition to Obamacare is self-reinforcing. If you’re not crazy about the law, you might not sign up for insurance. If the individual insurance market goes down the tubes, even more people will blame the law. It has all the makings of a vicious cycle.

Because public opinion is so key to the law’s success, we’re likely to see a pitched PR battle in the coming months. All Republicans have to do to sink the law is persuade people it’s such a bad deal that they’re probably better off not signing up. Democrats, meanwhile, have to convince enough people that it’s ultimately a good deal for them, even if their premiums go up.

The law’s supporters know this, which is why they are dumping tons of money into PR. But it’s possible they could overplay their hand and make people suspicious by their constant insistance that this really is a good deal. Will Wilkinson made an astute comment in a recent Economist post about the attitude an average uninsured young person (“Nicole”) will take to the law:

Naturally, advocates of Obamacare want it to have a chance to work. But do they believe it really will work, once it fully rolls out? That’s what has me a little puzzled. If the economic logic of the programme’s incentives is sound, why do Obamacare’s defenders seem wary of spooking Nicole?

Obama’s team is going to have to master the delicate balancing act of the hard sell: the administration has to persuade a skeptical public without turning it off with high-pressure sales tactics. How well they manage this balance will go a long way toward determining the ACA’s future.

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  • melanerpes

    I see it as my civic duty to not purchase health insurance until after the Obamacare collapse.

  • bpuharic

    Of course, most folks don’t know what’s IN Obamacare, and support the provisions when they’re informed what they are. It’s amazing to me the US is the only country in the western world without cost effective universal coverage. We seem to be proud of our failure

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