Earlier this week, Republicans politicians and pundits, bloggers and bosses couldn't contain their glee over a spate of polls showing the public's disapproval for the Affordable Care Act. But as I warned just yesterday, Obamacare's conservative saboteurs might soon contract a severe case of premature elation. After all, the experience of President Bush's badly bungled Medicare Part D prescription drug plan showed that fear of the unknown and a calamitous launch faded over time as the program took root. And so it is—just 24 hours later—that the Kaiser Family Foundation is reporting a significant increase in support for the Affordable Care Act, most importantly among those currently uninsured.
For most of the past four years, KFF polling on Obamacare among all adults was little changed (see chart at end). But the botched website launch in October produced plummeting approval numbers. In January, opposition among all respondents peaked at 50 to 34 percent. By February, the ACA's target audience of uninsured disapproved of the law by a staggering 56 to 22 margin.
Read more analysis below the fold.
But as Kaiser reported Wednesday, public opinion of Obamacare underwent a major turnaround over the past month. Overall, disapproval has narrowed to a 46 to 38 percent gap. And among the uninsured—60 percent of whom still had little awareness of the program or its March 31 deadline—the margin shrank from 34 to just 8 points.
If this public opinion trend for a major health care program sounds familiar, it should. As it turns out, at this time in 2006, the Medicare Part D drug program which now enjoys 90 approval among American seniors was even more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act is now. And with good reason:
The new federal web site allowing people to compare plans and prices was delayed by weeks, while just 300 customer service reps manned the phones to help new enrollees. Yet over six million people immediately lost their coverage, while hundreds of thousands more would be refused treatment because of malfunctions in the computer systems linking providers and insurers. In response to the mushrooming crisis, governors in mostly Democratic states spent billions to continue coverage for their residents, while the President pleaded with insurance companies not to cut off their current policyholders. Nevertheless, the White House sided with insurers and rejected bipartisan calls to delay the enrollment deadline even as public approval plummeted to 25 percent. It's no wonder John Boehner called the rollout of the President's signature domestic policy achievement "horrendous."It's no wonder President Bush was silent about his greatest domestic policy achievement during his 2006 State of the Union address.
But he didn't need to stay silent for long. By the summer of 2006, his Medicare Rx program for seniors was on the rebound.
Just like Obamacare is now.