Listen to the people on Obamacare

Commentary: GOP shouldn't shut down the government over health care law when the public is willing to give it a chance

Sen. Ted Cruz on Capitol Hill Sept. 25, 2013, after a 21-hour speech against President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Ted Cruz believes that, when it comes to Obamacare, politicians in Washington are not “listening to the American people.” If the politicians were listening, Cruz says, they would side with him and use the continuing resolution that funds the government to defund the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that he signed into law in 2010. To drive the point home, during Cruz’s 21-hour marathon speech on Sept. 24 and 25 on the Senate floor, he employed a Twitter hashtag: #MakeDClisten.

There is a puzzling aspect to Cruz’s campaign, however: The people are not on his side. A new survey of 1,976 registered voters by the Morning Consult, a health-care media company, finds that only one-third of Americans believe that the law should be repealed, delayed or defunded.

That is not to say that voters think that the Affordable Care Act will live up to its billing. Based on the study, 57 percent believe that the law will make health care more expensive. A plurality believes that the law will worsen the “availability of medical benefits” and “the quality of the medical care you receive.”

But most Americans also believe that you pass laws the old-fashioned way — by getting bills through the House, the Senate and the White House. And according to the Morning Consult survey, voters, despite their skepticism, want to give “Obamacare” a chance to succeed. Of those surveyed, 26 percent believe that “Congress should let the law take effect” and see what happens; 29 percent believe that Congress should try to improve the law and 12 percent believe it should be expanded.

So why is Sen. Cruz not taking his own advice and “listening to the American people?” It is because he fears that, once Obamacare’s insurance subsidies begin to flow, the law will become too popular to repeal. “President Obama's strategy is very simple,” Cruz said in an interview with Rush Limbaugh on Aug. 28. “He wants to get as many Americans as possible addicted to the subsidies, addicted to the sugar, because he knows that in modern times, no major entitlement has ever been implemented and then unwound.” Cruz’s concerns are not unfounded. He is right: In the past, large government programs, once created, have proven difficult to reform. But it’s possible that Obamacare is the exception that proves the rule.

Americans seem disposed to giving the health care law a chance, and it would be reasonable for Republicans to listen to them.

Dozens of polls show that Obamacare is unpopular. And voters’ skepticism is hardly unfounded. In 2008, Obama promised Americans that his health-reform proposal would “lower your premiums by up to $2,500 per family per year.” Instead, many Americans will see their costs go up and their benefits go down.

Obamacare is designed to help a tiny minority of people: those who cannot get insurance today because of a pre-existing condition, and those who cannot afford insurance but do not already qualify for government assistance. In order to help those individuals, Obamacare asks everyone else to pay more. Young and healthy people will be asked to spend thousands of dollars a year on policies they will not use. Retirees will see $716 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade — cuts not used to shore up Medicare, but to fund spending elsewhere.

A study I conducted last month with colleagues at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found that the health law’s insurance exchanges — the ones that just launched on Oct. 1 — will drive up the cost of individually purchased insurance by an average of 99 percent for men, and 62 percent for women.

Americans who get coverage from their employers will not be spared from rate hikes, either. Last month, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution stating that the law “will drive the costs of collectively bargained, union administered plans, and other plans that cover unionized workers, to unsupportable levels.” Among other things, the law forces insurers to cover services that its customers may not need, and it levies taxes on insurance premiums that get passed down to policyholders in the form of higher rates.

The country would be better off if Obamacare were repealed or delayed. But Americans seem disposed to giving the law a chance. And it would be reasonable for Republicans to listen to them. If conservatives are right, and Obamacare truly is a train wreck, it will become obvious by November of 2014. At that time, voters will have the opportunity to send more people like Ted Cruz to the United States Senate.

That is how you do things in a democracy.

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