By most pundits’ reckoning, Obamacare is in serious trouble. Another poll is out today, this one from CBS News, and the findings provide no relief for the administration or its defenders. Just the opposite:
Thirty-seven percent now approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing as president, down from 46 percent in October – a nine point drop in just a month. Mr. Obama’s disapproval rating is 57 percent — the highest level for this president in CBS News Polls.
A rocky beginning to the opening of the new health insurance exchanges has also taken its toll on how Americans perceive the Affordable Care Act. Now, approval of the law has dropped to 31 percent – the lowest number yet recorded in CBS News Polls, and a drop of 12 points since last month. Sixty-one percent disapprove (a high for this poll), including 46 percent who say they disapprove strongly.
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It takes more than a soupçon of denial at this point to see a silver lining in the battle to keep the law alive, but two columnists on the left try to make the case. One is Greg Sargent, who has an article at his Washington Post blog titled “Why Obamacare could still succeed.” The other, Salon’s Brian Beutler, appears to go all in with his headline: “The right’s in a box: Here’s how GOP loses Obamacare fight.”
Both men write that the chief impediment to the law’s success right now is the foundering Healthcare.gov website. Beulter argues that where the online exchanges are operational, enrollment in Obamacare is booming. He cites as a case in point Covered California, the nation’s largest state insurance marketplace. He notes that the director, Peter Lee, told the Los Angeles Times that Covered California is witnessing “incredible momentum,” adding that enrollment doubled in the first two weeks of November. Beulter concludes:
We now have pretty solid evidence that Obama administration officials are correct when they claim that the demand for insurance under the Affordable Care Act is substantial, but trapped behind the malfunctioning website.
Sargent for his part writes that the non-functionality of the federal website has forced insurance companies to forgo plans for massive advertising campaigns. He predicts:
If the federal website is mostly operational by the end of the month, it’s likely we’ll see a massive flood of advertising from insurance companies selling new plans over the exchanges.
Big if. Apart from that, Beutler and Sargent both tender arguments that might hold water if they were written in a vacuum. Placed in current context, however, neither stands up to scrutiny.
Peter Lee, whom Beutler quotes, told the Huffington Post last Friday that in California “older people or people who have health conditions” are the ones signing up for coverage. “These are people that have been waiting a long time to get covered,” he added, noting that his organization is working to counter this trend.
In the most optimistic reading, then, it is too early to say whether Lee will manage to persuade young, healthy people to sign up for Obamacare at higher-than-market prices or whether the dreaded death spiral will consume his state’s exchange. It is certainly premature to declare, as Beulter does in his delusional title, that the “right is in a box,” surge in California or no surge.
What of Sargent’s claim that advertisers will start lining up to persuade the masses that Obamacare is the right choice for them? His evidence is a Wall Street Journal article that does indeed presage an advertising boom. The author, Amol Sharma, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Media & Marketing, notes that as much as $1 billion could be spent on ads by insurers alone, citing TV executives and a broadcasters’ trade group.
The only problem with the article is its date: Aug. 15. Sargent notes the article’s August pull date in his blog post but goes ahead with his rosy speculation anyway. He fails to acknowledge that much has changed between then and now. The two months have elapsed have witnessed a disastrous Oct. 1 rollout and a president caught in a glaring lie. Worse yet, a steady diet of news reports chronicling broken promises in the law and cosmic flaws in the website has been fed to the American public. Hence the poll indicated at the outset.
It is anybody’s guess at this point whether advertisers are still planning aggressive campaigns to sell policies under a law that springs new leaks each day and a website that, by the administration’s own admission, will be deemed a success if 4 out of 5 people can use it.
Although it’s too early to write postmortems for either the law or Barack Obama’s legacy, the prognosis looks grim for both.
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