By Ben Koller
On Oct. 1, just a couple of weeks from now, one of the key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will go into effect; Americans will be able to enroll in state-based “exchanges”: Virtual marketplaces where the public can purchase insurance from private companies.
Yet as state and federal officials make the final preparations for this important date, the political battle rages on, with many conservatives continuing to call for the de-funding or even the repeal of the act. In the latest addition to this saga, the Republican controlled House has passed legislation that will continue to fund the federal government only if Obamacare is defunded. Because the Senate remains under Democratic control, this legislation has virtually no chance of passing, and has forced a political showdown over a possible government shutdown beginning on Oct. 1.
The fiery rhetoric of many conservative Republicans over this issue has led many to wonder if Republicans are truly willing to cause a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act.
Conservative action group FreedomWorks organized a ceremonial “Burn Your Obamacare Card” campaign to voice their displeasure with the law, and conservative newspaper The Washington Times published a leading op-ed titled “Defunding the evil that is Obamacare.” Political action committees have run ads calling for Congress to defund the program, and certain Republican politicians – including rumored 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz – have continued to call for the act’s repeal.
Even ignoring the argument that the United States’ health care system is in dire need of reform, the conservative push against the ACA is frustrating, and bordering on inexplicable.
Not only has the ACA passed several significant hurdles to even reach this point of implementation, but conservatives are spending massive amounts of time and effort to fight a law that is not nearly as radical, extreme or as unpopular as many claim.
The ACA survived months of passionate debate and intense scrutiny prior to its passage, including achieving the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster. After failing to stop the legislation in Congress, opponents turned to the courts in their attempt to repeal the ACA.
However, in June of 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the vast majority of the law, including the controversial individual mandate, which requires individuals to purchase private insurance if they are not covered through their employer or through a public insurance program such as Medicare or Medicaid.
Just a few months later, President Obama was re-elected with the ACA noted as his most prominant achievement in office; indeed, many commentators declared that the 2012 election would be a referendum on Obamacare. If that were the case, Obamacare passed with flying colors. Yet despite all these barriers, conservative opponents of the bill still claim that the ACA was forced upon the public. Clearly, this line of logic lacks any evidence whatsoever.
Conservatives have also attempted to claim that the ACA is a radical, big-government takeover of America’s health care system, another assertion that is dubious at best. The most controversial aspect of the ACA, the individual mandate, has its roots with the Heritage Foundation, one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the country.
When the Clinton administration proposed health care reform in 1993 that called for universal health care, the individual mandate was put forth by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation as an alternative, free-market solution, because it gives buyers the freedom to choose among a number of options. But 20 years later, many conservatives are trying to paint Obama’s individual mandate as an oppressive, big-government measure, which directly contradicts popular conservative ideology from only two decades previously.
Finally, many pundits and commentators have maintained that the ACA is unpopular and poorly regarded among the general public. However, according to Nate Silver’s polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight, which gained national attention for its accuracy in predicting elections, Americans have distinctly positive views on the provisions of the ACA when they are presented individually. For example, a joint poll by Reuters and Ipsos found: 82 percent of Americans favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions; 72 percent supported requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance for their employees; 61 percent favored allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
The individual mandate remains controversial, and support for the ACA is far from universal, but the idea of it being forced upon an unwilling public is clearly inaccurate.
In short, it is time for conservatives to simply let this one go. The Affordable Care Act has overcome multiple obstacles, and is clearly not an unpopular, big-government takeover of health care.
The time has come to focus on implementing the provisions of the ACA and improving health outcomes among the American public, rather than continuing the unnecessary political battle to undermine and sabotage the law and potentially cause a shutdown of the federal government.