President Obama’s health care law is the gift that keeps on giving to the GOP.
In 2010, of course, passage of the law powered the Republican gains of 62 seats in the House of Representatives and pickups of more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation.
The law didn’t go into effect in time to hurt the president’s re-election bid in 2012, but it is making life extremely difficult for the president’s party in 2014. Cautious beltway pundit Stuart Rothenberg recently announced that he is “expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave” this year. He believes the GOP will pick up at least seven seats to gain majority control of the Senate and will not be “shocked by a larger gain.”
The dynamic in 2014 is a lot like it was four years earlier. Democrats believe that sooner or later people will learn to love the law called the “Affordable Care Act” by its supporters and “Obamacare” by everyone else. Recently, the left-leaning Talking Points Memo featured a story proclaiming “GOP’s Obamacare Nightmare Is Coming True: It’s Working.”
While it’s easy for Democrats to find such stories online, the hope that voters will learn to love the president’s health care law is not working out. In fact, the opposite is true. Over time, it has become even less popular. Health industry expert Bob Laszewski says that Democrats who think the issue will fade by Election Day are engaged in “Wishful thinking.”
Laszewski, by the way, is not a Republican campaign surrogate who can be easily dismissed. He’s a recognized expert on the health care law, and the Washington Post’s Wonkblog named him “Pundit of the Year” in 2013.
Writing on his own Health Care Policy blog, Laszewski highlights many problems expected over the coming months. To cite just one example, the administration is encouraging those who signed up on a health care exchange last year to auto-renew their policy. Doing so will avoid the hassle of a return trip to the healthcare.gov website.
However, avoiding the re-enrollment hassle is a high-risk approach. Even though the auto-renewal would let people keep their same policy, the consumer could get burned by a much higher cost. That’s because of the complicated formulas used to calculate the subsidies.
That will certainly be annoying to stunned policyholders, but the political kicker is the gift that the law will provide for a Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Here’s why. Currently, insurance companies are protected from losing money during the first three years of the health care law’s implementation. Whatever they lose, the government will cover the cost. That means insurance companies can keep prices low to attract customers secure in the knowledge that the government will bail them out if needed.
Starting in 2017, though, the insurance companies will lose their government guarantee. If they keep prices artificially low, they will lose money. That’s not likely to happen, and it’s hard to imagine any public support for an ongoing insurance company bailout. Prices will rise; the only question is how much.
The new pricing, without the government guarantee, will be announced in the summer and fall of 2016 — prime time to damage the Democratic presidential candidate.
President Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2016, but his health care law will still be helping the GOP.