Two years ago, the White House, tired of defending the Affordable Care Act against from challenges in court, Congress, and the ballot box, popularized a hashtag for its signature legislative achievement—#ItsTheLaw—intended to convey that the debate had been settled. Despite Democratic exasperation, however, we shouldn’t expect the debate over Obamacare to cease anytime soon—both because major components of the law haven’t been implemented yet, and because, even if the law limps along without any new unpleasant surprises, it will not solve the underlying unsustainability of our healthcare system. Ben Domenech has a perceptive piece in the Daily Beast arguing that Obamacare could end up being a key political issue in the 2016 election:
Don’t look now, but the president’s signature domestic policy, his namesake health care law, is doing very poorly. It just received its worst news yet, when the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth, broached the possibility that it could exit the health insurance exchange due to its inability to find profits.
Its losses from participating in the exchange were simply impossible to maintain. If other insurers follow suit, those left behind will likely raise their rates even more. […]
Once Obamacare launched, it was supposed to be a political boon for Democrats. It was supposed to give them the ability to count on a newly engaged group of Americans who saw the government as providing them significant and helpful subsidies that prevented them from being concerned about their health coverage. Instead, its mismanagement and failure to live up to President Obama’s promises has given Republicans an opportunity they intend to exploit.
Domenech is likely right. As we’ve written before, “the Affordable Care Act is looking more like a clown car than an emergency rescue vehicle,” and Republicans are not going to miss the opportunity to point to the failures of politicians that set it in motion.
That doesn’t mean that the law will be repealed—especially as the GOP itself is short on solutions for the America’s health care dysfunction. Rather, it means the debate will stay alive, and it will be fueled by persisting anxieties about the cost of health care. Many voters are finding that healthcare costs are consuming a larger and larger share of their budgets, and the rising cost of insurance is slowing the growth of their incomes.
Solving this problem will require major, market-oriented reforms, coupled with new innovations in the private sector (we’ve listed a few potential avenues for future reform). If politicians want to really meet voters where they are on healthcare, they need to do more than point out the health care crisis; they must think creatively about ways to make U.S. healthcare delivery cheaper, faster, and more affordable. The 2016 presidential contenders should have their staffs looking closely as the subject as well—because as Domenech points out, this issue is not going away.