Looking back at the 2012 presidential elections, and the shock to many that Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama, the pivotal events were not just the debates, but the one figure: 47, and what it represented. The same currents will be at work in 2014 and Obamacare will play a role.
Enough voters came to the conclusion from that infamous sound bite secretly recorded in which Romney disdained 47 percent to realize that Romney did not care about them. This perception, coupled with the gender gap, lost him the election.
President Obama drew on his middle class background, a consistent theme since 2008. Some called Obama’s approach “class warfare” as he constantly referred to middle class interests in his stump speeches. The 2012 election was not just a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, but “ Obamacare” was part of the winning theme: helping the middle class.
Voter perception of middle class versus the well-heeled may also determine future public support for Obamacare. Those crying “it is worse” will be those who saw benefits not materialize, or who had to pay more for insurance. Among those will be some well-heeled who resent they are the ones picking up some of the tab for the newly insured. They see themselves as losers in the Obamacare law. They may not have realized it, but pre-Obamacare, they and all insured were losers, paying for the health care of the uninsured anyway. Charity care and unpaid medical bills were costs hospitals and other providers passed on to those paying insurance premiums to the tune of at least $1,000 per family, per year.
The fact is, Obamacare was not created to subsidize those able to pay for their own health insurance. It was devised to help those who could not afford to buy insurance and who had been faced with unfair insurance company practices. Those individuals making under $50,000 a year and families of four earning less than $94,000 a year qualify for subsidies. They also are the ones who had once been most likely to go bankrupt or face foreclosure because of unpaid medical bills, or who feared layoffs and changing jobs would leave them without employer-provided insurance. That is the kind of middle class relief and security Obamacare provides — always available, affordable coverage.
What will shape opinion about Obamacare the most in the coming year will be the experience of those who sign up successfully and pass on their success stories to families and friends. There are far more of them than those who feel they drew the short straw. The larger number of winners is the problem the GOP faces if they base a campaign on dramatizing stories about the fewer losers.
Count on Republicans running on repealing Obamacare or substituting it with unworkable proposals that fail to accomplish the same goals. By November 2014, more than 20 million consumers will have made the effort to successfully sign up. When these middle class new customers of affordable health care realize the GOP proposes to take away their newly acquired benefits, or asks them to change systems again, their howls of protest will not be to the GOP’s advantage in November 2014.
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