Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once proposed that people go through five stages of grief after a loss. The first time I’d ever heard of this was in the film All That Jazz, where the late Cliff Gorman does a stand-up routine based on the theory, although calling it the five stages of death rather than grief (NSFW):
National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar takes this concept and applies it to politics, specifically in the case of Democrats who are struggling to come to terms with the disaster of ObamaCare. Kraushaar argues that Democrats are in stage 3 on the Kübler-Ross scale, bargaining that voters will want them to stay in office to fix the problems revealed in the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act. However, even that sounds like stage 1 — denial:
Indeed, in a sign that Democrats are stuck in neutral on their Obamacare messaging, the “news” from the memo is months old. The strategy devised by the sharpest party operatives has already been in effect in numerous ads across the country and was promoted by the party’s top strategists two months ago. In those targeted races, public polling has shown Democratic standing worsening where the on-air Obamacare debate has already begun. (See: Landrieu, Mary; Hagan, Kay.)
The main reason 2014 is different than 2012 isn’t the quality of the messaging. It’s that the law is now a reality affecting millions of Americans—and more don’t like the changes. The most important test on the ultimate success of the health care law will be whether voters think they’re getting a better deal out of the law than not. And all available evidence, from polling to the government’s cherry-picked enrollment data, suggests that supporters face a tough challenge making the sell.
The actual number of Americans who gained insurance through the law is much lower than the 3.3 million the White House is claiming. The numbers released by the Health and Human Services Department include many people with insurance who were forced out of their previous individual market plans onto the Obamacare exchanges. It also includes those who signed up but never paid for insurance—which makes up about one-fifth of those enrollees, according to a New York Times analysis.
For a crystal-clear sign of the political woes Obamacare faces, look no further than the ad the Democratic House Majority PAC is airing in a majority-Hispanic south Florida district that Obama carried twice. The seat, represented by freshman Rep. Joe Garcia, is one of a small handful in the country that gave Obama a larger share of the vote in 2012 than in 2008—he won 53 percent last election. It’s also one of the media markets where the Obama presidential campaign spent millions of dollars in Spanish-language ads praising the law in unequivocal terms.
This new ad, as part of the damage control, contains no such accolades. It promotes how Garcia “took the White House to task,” referencing its “disastrous” health care website. Like its counterparts, it argues Garcia wants to fix the broken law. Democratic strategists said that outside of the most liberal precincts, they can’t persuade people of the law’s benefits until they acknowledge its problems first.
Indeed. The problem is that the disruption still far exceeds the benefits, and according to the CBO, always will — as 30 million will still be uninsured at the end of the program’s first decade anyway. In the meantime, the impact of the program produces outcomes like this one highlighted by Americans for Prosperity. Julie Boonstra had satisfactory health insurance and coverage for her medications treating leukemia, until ObamaCare forced her out of her plan despite Barack Obama’s promise:
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative tax-exempt organization, has a new 60-second television ad running in Michigan that criticizes Democratic congressman Gary Peters for his vote and continued support of Obamacare. The ad features Michigan citizen Julie Boonstra, who describes how she was diagnosed with leukemia but lost her health insurance coverage this year because of Obamacare’s regulations.
“I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare,” says Boonstra. “Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to.”
Democrats shoved ObamaCare through Congress over the opposition of a majority of Americans largely by offering anecdotal arguments. That ground has shifted now that the impact of the ACA is being felt in reality, rather than hailed in theory. There will be many more stories such as Boonstra’s, and Democrats who think they can defend themselves by saying they waggled a finger at incompetence aren’t in the bargaining stage. They’re in sheer denial.