But it has not quite worked out that way. The government website was fixed, and 8.1 million people managed to sign up for insurance through the exchanges. An additional 4.8 million people received coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Three million people under the age of 26 were covered by their parents’ plans. Though the law itself has never been widely popular, most people say they like its component parts, and a large majority now says it wants the law improved rather than repealed.
That sentiment conflicts with the Republican playbook, which party leaders are suddenly trying to rewrite. The result has been an incoherent mishmash of positions, as candidates try to straddle a widening gap between blind hatred of health reform and the public’s growing recognition that much of it is working.
Sometimes the dissonance reaches nearly comic levels. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, recently won his party’s primary for his Kentucky Senate seat in part by saying he wanted to repeal the health law “root and branch.” Last week, though, he was asked what repeal would mean for the 413,000 people who had signed up for insurance under Kynect, Kentucky’s state-run exchange. “I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question,” he said. Mr. McConnell knows full well, of course, that the popular Kynect program was created by the Affordable Care Act and could not exist without it, but he is hoping to fool his constituents into believing the health care access they like has nothing to do with the law he has fought against for so long or with President Obama.
His campaign even suggested he would allow many of the 300,000 Kentuckians who signed up for Medicaid — solely because of the law’s expansion — to stay covered after repeal, which makes about as much sense as his previous statement.
Many other Republican candidates have also switched from brimstone to mush on the issue, no longer claiming they will repeal the law but instead will “replace” it or “fix” it in some unspecified way that could not possibly work. An example is an ad from the United States Chamber of Commerce in support of Richard Tisei, a Republican running for a Massachusetts congressional seat, which promises that he would work in a “bipartisan manner to fix health care the right way.”
And just what is that right way? “He wants to instill free-market solutions,” the ad says, “end the job-killing tax on medical devices and curb lawsuit abuse to bring down the cost of care.” None of which has anything to do with bringing care to the uninsured, or those with pre-existing conditions.
Scott Brown, who failed to sell this kind of nonsense in the Senate race in Massachusetts in 2012, is now peddling it in New Hampshire, where he is running for the Senate by saying the health law is “hurting families.” But not his family, apparently; in 2012, he admitted to keeping his daughter, then 23, on his policy, thanks to the law.
The good news is that some Democratic candidates, sensing the same change in the weather, are beginning to campaign on the law’s benefits. Improving access to health care was the right thing for the country, and supporting it may turn out to be good politics, too.