The Obamacare Debate Is Not Over, Mr. President

On Obamacare, millions of Americans are signed up but not sold.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the Affordable Care Act in the White House briefing room November 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. The president said 'This one is on me,' and announced that canceled insurance plans would be renewed for a year. (National Journal)

President Obama confuses high enrollment numbers with success on Obamacare, ignoring the obvious fact that millions of Americans are signed up but not sold.

"The point is, the repeal debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working," the president said while announcing the enrollment of more than 8 million Americans. That is not the point. The debate is not over.

The fact is that Americans are required under the ACA to obtain health insurance or pay a tax. After a rocky launch, the administration cleared the first and easiest hurdle in a long road to implementation: Enforcing a mandate.

Now the White House has to show that a massive new marketplace, overseen by a distrusted federal government, can shrink the pool of uninsured without enraging the majority of people who are relatively happy with their status quo. This is the hard part that Obama glossed over when he disingenuously promised voters that they could keep their doctor and insurance plans if they liked them. Rather than honestly explain the complicated law and ask for patience and shared sacrifice, the president dissembled.

And now he pays.

A new Washington Post-ABC poll shows that Americans aren't buying Obama's latest spin, his closing the door on debate, especially when it comes to the quality and cost of their own health care.

  • By a two-to-one margin, more people think the quality of care they receive is getting worse rather than better under Obamacare (29 percent to 14 percent). A majority says the quality has stayed the same.
  • By a two-to-one margin, more people think the nation's health care system is getting worse, not better (44 percent to 24 percent). Less than a third say the quality of U.S. health care is about the same.
  • Nearly half of Americans say their personal health care costs are increasing under Obamacare (47 percent). Just 8 percent report decreases.
  • A strong majority say the overall costs of the U.S. health care system are increasing (58 percent). Just 11 percent see decreases.
  • Despite the fact that the administration hit its first enrollment goals, half of those polled said ACA implementation is going worse than they expected. Four-in-10 say the start has exceeded expectations.
  • Roughly the same percentage of people support the law as oppose it (44 percent to 48 percent).
  • Just 37 percent approve of how Obama has handled his signature legislative achievement.

None of this means that Obamacare is doomed. The president has shuffled his team to put experienced managers in position to navigate the tough policy and politics ahead. Voters may eventually give him credit for stretching the safety net into the 21st century. And rival Republicans risk overreaching: Opposing health care to millions is not a political slam dunk. Several polls show that most voters, even in conservative states, oppose repealing the law.

Strictly speaking, that was Obama's point when he said "the repeal debate" is over, but the White House's celebratory response to the enrollment achievement had the unmistakable air of a victory lap. The president risks insulting a vast majority of Americans by dismissing their concerns with a consultant's talking point. The debate is not over. It has just begun, and Obama can't afford any more blows to his credibility.

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