Obamacare’s political backlash

Last week, I wrote: “The winners under Obamacare will be a cohort that already votes overwhelmingly for Democrats. The losers will consist mainly of middle class Americans, whose party allegiance is split.”

This piece in Politico supports my assessment. It focuses on the initial wave of Obamacare losers, namely those who have lost their privately purchased health insurance and are thus forced, if they wish to remain insured, to purchase an Obamacare approved plan.

According to Politico writers Darren Samuelsohn and Jason Millman, between 10 and 20 million Americans have purchased health insurance on their own. The Obama administration itself has projected that most of them will lose that insurance.

Samuelsohn and Millman contend that these “Obamacare losers could pack a political punch.” If anything, though, their description of the cohort — “married, older, white, college-educated, GOP-leaning Americans” — tends to understate that punch by implying that the disaffected are mostly natural Republicans anyway.

But later in the article we learn that, according to a survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nearly half of those who brought their own insurance are between the ages of 18 and 44. We also learn, thanks to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, that there is no statistically significant difference between the political party affiliation of those who buy their own health care.

To be sure, when pressed, more people in this group say they lean Republican than Democrat. But the Kaiser poll clearly supports my statement that the party allegiance of Obamacare losers (at least this set of them) is split. Moreover, as one analyst quoted by Politico says, anger over cancellation letters is likely to cross party lines.

The big question, of course, is how this anger will translate on Election Day 2014. Apparently, there are not yet any data out there that help answer this question. But Samuelsohn and Millman clearly believe that anger over insurance cancellations caused by Obamacare might well translate into serious problems for the Democrats.

It’s the shock of the change — especially after President Barack Obama repeatedly promised that anyone could keep the plan that they had — that is very real and threatens to resonate through the 2014 midterm campaign.

“[Obama] may have known this is a more sophisticated issue – you’re going to get better, more benefits – but people who hear politicians are very literal,” said Harvard professor Bob Blendon, an expert on public attitudes toward health care policy.

Again, Samuelsohn and Millman understate the problem for Democrats. It’s not just shock in the abstract, coupled with Obama’s broken promise, that is driving anger. Nor is the anger due to lack of sophistication.

Kaiser found that, on average, purchasers of private insurance pay an average premium of $385, with a $3,754 average deductible. If the reporting on the exchanges is anywhere close to accurate, these folks are not finding plans this economically desirable under Obamacare. Rather, the plans they find are like ones they rejected, or never even considered, pre-Obamacare.

Moreover, folks are unlikely to be moved by claims that they are losing nothing more than “bad apple” insurance that can be replaced by a better plan with more benefits are. Kaiser found that nearly everyone who buys private insurance shops first. Most are unlikely to regard the insurance they selected after doing their homework — and rejecting plans with more forms of coverage — as rotten.

It is true that some who lose their private plans will be eligible for subsidies. But the polling cited by Politico show that most are too well-off for that.

To make matters worse for the Democrats, Politico also suggests that the class angered as a result of folks losing their private insurance won’t be limited to the victims themselves.

“For every one person who gets their policy cancelled, that fact could influence maybe three or four other voters as well. It has a potential to spiral to not just people it immediately affects, but others,” said David Hogberg, a health care policy analyst for the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

Finally, I should note, as John has, that those who lose coverage under a private plan represent just the tip of the iceberg of Obamacare losers. The Obama administration has calculated that half of all employer plans will be terminated as a result of Obamacare.

The class of Obamacare losers created by this wave of cancellations isn’t likely to be any better amused than the class created by the initial wave. And the second wave will be greater in magnitude and longer in duration.

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