Received wisdom on the left about Obamacare’s political future goes like this: since the website fiasco has calmed down and the law has gone into effect, the ACA has already or will soon become so ingrained into Americans’ lives that it will cease to be a live political issue. Maybe someday, but apparently not yet, according to Politico. The law has become a particularly salient campaign issue in the states where it could matter the most for this year’s Senate elections. Eight states will see insurers raise their premiums by double digits this year, and many of those eight states have close Senate races. In a year when the GOP looks poised to retake the Senate (albeit narrowly), those states could be key to the Senate’s composition. More:
Double-digit rate hikes for individual health insurance plans have become an issue in the Louisiana and Iowa Senate races over the past week, where the Republican candidates are hammering their Democratic opponents for the steep premium increases on the way next year for some customers under the Affordable Care Act.“In general, the premium increases have been pretty modest. But there are exceptions, and the exceptions happen to be in states with competitive races,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation, who has studied the premium trends around the country.
If Obamacare helps the GOP to win key states in an overall Senate capture, that might solidify the party’s commitment to doing something about the ACA, keeping the law alive as a political issue. But if they do take up the ACA, they should take note of the rhetoric Levitt uses. By “modest” increases, Levitt means increases equal to the average rate pre-ACA. But that qualification is itself problematic, given that increases before the law were already taking bigger and bigger chucks out of the average American’s paycheck. Lawmakers drew on concern over the cost of health care in talking up the ACA in the first place (hence, the “Affordable” in “ACA”), but that problem clearly remains unsolved for many Americans. To note that rates haven’t skyrocketed is clearly shifting the goalposts for a law that was supposed to make health care more affordable.A Republican Senate reenergized about health care issue should focus on this fact. The problem with the ACA isn’t isolated rate spikes, but the political establishment’s broader failure to advance a comprehensive policy framework for lowering the cost of care. Addressing that failure may not necessarily require repealing the ACA, but it will require learning from successes both in U.S. states and abroad to finally do what the American people have wanted all along: make health care cost less.