When it comes to the politics of Obamacare, there’s really only one question that matters: How many Americans are benefiting from the new health care system, and how many are hurting?
Obamacare’s advocates have pushed hard against Republican attempts to highlight Americans who have been particularly hard hit by the new law. “There’s plenty of horror stories being told,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in February. “All of them are untrue.”
Those advocates have hit back so hard that it appears they are trying to discredit the notion that anyone has been hurt by the system.
So who has, in fact, been harmed by Obamacare? The first question, of course, is what “harmed” means. But let’s define it as anyone who faces higher premiums, or higher deductibles – adding up to a total higher cost – and/or a narrower choice of hospitals, doctors and prescription drugs than they had before. For them, health care is a more expensive and troublesome proposition than it was before Obamacare.
The bottom line, according to health care analyst Bob Laszewski: “We have literally millions of people each impacted a bit differently.” That’s hard to quantify and turn into a neat political argument.
Even what appears to be Obamacare good news can mean bad news for potential voters. For example, this week the Congressional Budget Office released a report, much noted by Obamacare supporters, announcing that the program’s subsidies will cost the government less than originally forecast.
“The plans being offered through the exchanges in 2014 appear to have, in general, lower payment rates for providers, narrower networks of providers, and tighter management of their subscribers’ use of health care than employment-based plans do,” the CBO said. “Those features allow insurers that offer plans through the exchanges to charge lower premiums [although they also make plans somewhat less attractive to potential enrollees].”
Will people who pay more, or who get less, or both, take their Obamacare unhappiness out against Democrats this November? Some surely will. But how many, and how strongly motivated they will be, will probably remain unknown until after the polls have closed.
• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.