Poor President Barack Obama. Days before a key element of “Obamacare” takes effect, only 39 percent of Americans say they approve of it.
Despite the president’s many burdens, notably the mess in Syria, the Affordable Care Act is his signature act in office — his legacy. And it isn’t looking as if many more big accomplishments are ahead.
The law is losing popularity. In January, about 51 percent of Americans said they looked with favor on the 2010 complicated, confusing and puzzling law that few in the Obama administration, even with the help of former President Bill Clinton, have been able to explain adequately to us.
The current polling was done by CNN/ORC International just before Americans without health insurance are supposed to begin enrolling in new health care exchanges or government “marketplace” for health insurance. The poll said support has declined the most among two big Democratic supporters: women and Americans who make less than $50,000.
The public is not to be blamed. We’ve been hearing for months that the exchanges aren’t quite ready. We’ve been hearing that the administration postponed for a year the mandate that employers with more than 50 employees provide coverage for their workers. We’ve been hearing for months that Americans don’t know what the new law will mean to them or what it will cost.
Republicans in Congress hate Obamacare so much that the House has voted 40 times to repeal it. That will not happen, so some Republicans hope to shut down the government at the end of September rather than put any money into the law.
Yes, most people like the part in Obamacare about pre-existing conditions no longer being considered uninsurable and also the part about children being covered up to age 26 through their parents’ policies.
The rest seems extremely murky.
Even unions, the core of Obama’s political support, are cranky. Some of them just pushed the AFL-CIO to adopt snarkily worded resolutions criticizing the new law at their convention, although the harshest language was stripped out.
Union delegates complain about complex regulations that are still being written to implement the law. According to The New York Times, Terence M. O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, told the convention: “If the Affordable Care Act is not fixed and it destroys the health and welfare funds that we have fought for and stand for, then I believe it needs to be repealed. We don’t want it to be repealed. We want it to be fixed, fixed, fixed.”
But it’s hard to fix a complex law when so many are shouting repeal, repeal, repeal. Open enrollment in the government’s marketplace for insurance opens Oct. 1, the day before the current measure that funds the federal government expires. (Actual coverage through the new exchanges does not begin until Jan. 1.)
Since Obama seems in the mood to give TV addresses to the nation, perhaps he should consider explaining the ramifications of the new law. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says little except that “challenges remain.” He denies the new law will permit companies to take workers off their current employer-provided health care plans and “dump” them on the new exchanges. Skepticism abounds.
Meanwhile, workers see health care premiums shoot through the roof. One heating and air conditioning technician in Maryland said his family’s Blue Cross Blue Shield policy went up 25 percent in the last year to $1,300 a month. He said he was told it was because insurance companies now must cover pre-existing conditions. But he also has had significant health problems.
Sadly, I don’t have space to cite all the good and bad points about the new law. But the government has set up a decent website, www.healthcare.gov, which answers many questions. If you want to know your options in the health insurance marketplace before Oct. 1, you may call 1-800-318-2596. Do it before Sept. 30.
Let’s hope Republicans who dislike the law don’t shut down the entire government that day and make our lives even more complicated.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.