One of the biggest concerns Republicans voiced about the 2012 election was that a victory by President Obama would solidify Obamacare and forever change the disposition of the American people toward government and the shape of our economy. That is not an unrealistic fear given the ever-expanding federal welfare state in which “change” is always in the form of addition and never subtraction. But the fears may be premature.
Take first public opinion. In a poll of all Americans (not even registered voters) Gallup finds: “For the first time in Gallup trends since 2000, a majority of Americans say it is not the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage.” More specifically, Gallup found: “One thing that has not changed is that Americans still widely prefer a system based on private insurance to one run by the government. Currently, 57% prefer a private system and 36% a government-run system, essentially the same as in 2010 and 2011. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the percentage of Americans in favor of a government-run system ranged from 32% to 41%.” Most telling is that the big complaint, namely rising health costs, is the very thing Obamacare will not address, and instead has already accelerated: “Americans are widely dissatisfied with the cost of healthcare in the U.S.: 22% are satisfied and 77% are dissatisfied.”
So perhaps the public is influenced by (and hence subject to persuasion from) life experience. Obamacare’s less than stellar beginnings may foreshadow a stream of unintended consequences and a hardening of public antipathy toward a government- subsidized and highly-regulated system.
That brings us to how Obamacare will be implemented and what impact it will have on the economy as a whole. We’ve already seen that businesses are loathe to hire more employees (especially the 50th employee who would trigger the plan’s provisions) with looming Obamacare costs out there. More recently, governors have figured out that it may be better not to have their fingerprints on a potential health-care fiasco whose ramifications are unknown.
The main problem is that states are being conscripted as federal contractors. HHS has declined to reveal basic operational details except to make clear that state-based exchanges won’t really be run by the states. “No matter which option is chosen,” as Scott Walker put it, “Wisconsin taxpayers will not have meaningful control over the health-care policies and services sold to Wisconsin residents.”
So if things don’t work voters will blame the Governors for decisions made in Washington. And when it turns out that ObamaCare’s costs are underestimated and its benefits exaggerated, they’ll have enabled an entitlement that many of their constituents oppose. The wonder is that any GOP leaders—ahem, Chris Christie and Rick Scott—are still playing Hamlet.
In sum, the public and the economy are a long way from embracing Obamacare, at least in its present form. Principled opponents of the program should continue challenging its most onerous provisions and forcing the feds to live with the consequences of an abysmal piece of legislation.