Former Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius is back, and she has figured out why the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular.
No, it’s not the law’s imposition of new taxes on those who have health insurance, or the “fines” levied on individuals who are now forced to purchase insurance whether they want it or not. It’s not the limits the law places on access to preferred health care providers. It’s not the fact that millions in the individual market lost the plans with which they were happy with but did not comport with new ACA coverage standards, nor the fact that millions more are set to lose their policies when the law is eventually fully implemented. It’s not the law’s deleterious impact on the labor participation rate, which remains at its lowest point since the Carter administration.
Nope. The reason why “Obamacare” is so persistently unpopular is the fact that the law bears the name of a president who is also unpopular.
“I think we may need to call it something in the future different, but it is working,” Sebelius said at an event sponsored by Politico. “Obamacare, no question, has a very bad brand that has been driven intentionally by a lot of misinformation and a lot of paid advertising.”
Maybe it’s the sudden onset of “Gruber syndrome” that prompted Sebelius to suggest the public has been led by the nose by disreputable propagandists and only views the law unfavorably because they lack the cognitive abilities to think for themselves. Maybe the ACA covers that as a preexisting condition.
“Not only are people getting coverage, [but also] the largest drop in uninsured rates in this country, the lowest healthcare cost growth in this country ever recorded,” Sebelius said. “So, it’s actually doing what it’s supposed to do and creating a competitive market for people who had no choice.”
This insult to the American public is only compounded by the epistemic closure which prompted it. Sebelius is essentially echoing an embarrassing assertion issued by Vox.com founder Ezra Klein in November. “In conservative media, ObamaCare is a disaster. In the real world, it’s working,” he wrote. Only outside the intellectually cloistered world in which progressive writers reinforce each other’s biases was this statement not met with hearty guffaws.
Guy Benson performed a lengthy dissection of Klein’s claim and found it wanting.
“Obamacare has shattered virtually every major promise its supporters advanced during the public debate of 2009 and 2010,” he wrote.
Premiums are still rising (sharply, in many cases), out-of-pocket costs are increasing, access to care is receding, millions have been unable to retain their preferred plans and physicians (with many more cancellation letters to come), the national health spending trajectory is still pointed upward, the enrollment process is still plagued by technical problems, major components of Obamacare’s less-than-secure website still aren’t built, nonpartisan experts agree that the law is harming the economy, a supermajority of Americans directly impacted by the law thus far say they’ve been hurt by it, and its overall approval rating has languished underwater by double digits for years on end.
The Federalist’s David Hogberg also issued a response to Klein’s assertion. “Despite what Klein suggests, Obamacare is becoming an even bigger mess,” he wrote.
“Apparently, a person can get the most biased view of Obamacare if he pays attention only to liberal websites such as Vox,” Hogberg concluded after detailing 14 methodically researched points which disprove Klein’s, and Sebelius’s, claims.
It is the height of arrogance for those who have closed themselves off to inconvenient facts to accuse others of engaging in that same practice, but that is the present state of affairs. Sebelius’s dime store political analysis does not even account for the fact that the Affordable Care Act’s favorability rating has remained virtually static since its passage while the president’s job approval has steadily declined – an association which suggests the health care reform law’s fate is not perfectly linked to the president’s political fortunes.
But even making this point confers too much legitimacy on Sebelius’s comments that are deserving only of mockery when they are not ignored entirely. Maybe the Democratic Party’s allies should invest a little intellectual energy in determining the real reasons for Obamacare’s unpopularity rather than assuring each other that this majority point of view is illegitimate.