Obamacare Continuing to Hurt Democrats’ Political Health

Obamacare is quite the funny little issue. It is simultaneously the thing that Democrats hope will hang around, but nobody will talk about; and the thing that Republicans hope will go away, but that everyone will talk about.

The serious bureaucratic overreach of the law played a large part in the Republican resurgence in the 2010 midterms. Unfortunately, the way the law was written very little happened in the next two years. The debate over the laws demerits was still plenty relevant, but there wasn’t much besides the occasional updated CBO score for Republicans to latch on to for the 2012 presidential elections. Now, with many of the law’s provisions in the beginning stages of implementation, Obamacare is once again dominating the headlines and becoming an important issue in the 2014 midterms.

Thus far, the talk has been less than glowing. In March, the Society of Actuaries issued a study concluding that the overwhelming majority purchasing insurance on the exchanges would of see double-digit increases in their health care premiums. The Association of Health Insurance Plans describes the particular impact on young adults:

“[T]he new health insurance tax, costly benefit requirements and age rating restrictions will drive up the cost of coverage for many consumers and employers. When this happens, many younger and healthier Americans could decide not to get coverage, which would further drive up costs for everyone else.”

Even these bits of news were already making many Democrats nervous, a phenomenon reported on by Amy Walter of the Cook Report. “[I] talked to a lot of Democrats this week, especially those are involved with campaigns who are very nervous about another 2010-type election with health care reform kicking in,” Walter said on the Chris Matthews Show.

But that was just the beginning of the bad news. The White House’s budget included some startling figures that gave hints as to the new, ever-rising costs of Obamacare. According to the budget the cost of health care exchanges—a one-stop-shop where individuals without insurance can go to compare and purchase plans—has exploded. The Hill reports:

“The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said in budget documents Wednesday that it expects to spend $4.4 billion by the end of this year on grants to help states set up new insurance exchanges. HHS had estimated last year that the grants would cost $2 billion.

The department also is asking Congress for another $1.5 billion to help set up federally run exchanges in states that do not establish their own.”

So let me get this straight – dozens of states decide not to set up their own exchanges and the federal government still needs twice the amount of money they budgeted? Not exactly an encouraging omen for the rest of the bill.

Obama’s budget also asked for $606 billion to spend on subsidies for people in the exchange – a government payment to help make insurance affordable for families up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s 27 percent more than Obama projected last year, and an incredible 65 percent more than the Administration asked for in 2012.

No wonder Democrats are worried. Costs are soaring, implementation troubles are rising and an election is looming. In the mad scramble to change the subject some Democratic groups are even getting together to pass another health care reform law – one that would focus on lowering costs, not just mandating that people purchase expensive coverage.

But wasn’t “bending the cost curve” one of the primary reasons for Obamacare in the first place? White House spokesman Jay Carney certainly made that impression when he told reporters, “The president is interested in reducing the cost of health care because the cost of health care drives our long-term debt and deficit challenges. That is one of the aspects of the ACA that is often under-reported; that it addresses the cost and lowers the cost long-term of health care.”

Good luck making that argument after the recent flurry of bad news. Because if that’s the best you can do, Democrats have every reason to worry that 2014 will be the 2010 midterms all over again.