Why the Health Care Repeal Movement Is Failing


Jonathan Chait proffers the latest evidence of why the Republican movement to repeal health care reform is doomed. The problem is that even hard-right conservatives admit that there’s something to love in the health care law, as Florida Senate hopeful Marco Rubio recently told the National Review:

[Rubio] just mentioned that there are two parts within the Obamacare legislation that he doesn’t want repealed*. The first is the ban on insurance companies denying coverage based onpreexisting conditions and the second is that he thinks that children up to age 26 should be allowed to “buy into” their parents’ coverage.

The problem is that you can’t just cherrypick the parts of the health care reform that you want to support and junk the rest, as both the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and Chait acknowledge. If you prohibit discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, then you have to find ways to compel both healthy and sick people to get coverage, otherwise costs will skyrocket if only sick people are insured. This is part of the reason why the Affordable Care Act contains an individual mandate to purchase insurance—one of the provisions that’s a frequent conservative target—as well as other ways to expand insurance coverage.

Republicans, as a result, have had to call for an all-out repeal of the bill, with the assumption that they’d pass another health care bill afterwards. This unpalatable option split the GOP from the very moment that health care reform passed. And it appears that even anti-reform Americans aren’t buying it.

Even in the places where health-care reform is overwhelmingly unpopular, the public has been unwilling to make any real concerted push for repeal. In Ohio, 59 percent of the populace say they’d want to repeal the health-care law. But here’s the thing. A recent Tea Party-fueled effort to put a repeal measure up for a vote this fall has completely flopped; the group organizing the campaign has failed to even gather the 402,275 signature it needs to include it as a ballot initiative. To put that in perspective, Tea Partiers were unable to get even 7 percent of the number of Ohioans who voted in the 2008 presidential election to sign on to the ballot initiative, despite the majority support in Ohio for repeal.

The reality is that even with the upsurge of anti-government activism, Americans still don’t like stuff they already have yanked from their clutches. Remember all the anti-reform activists who rallied against “socialized medicine”—only to add, “and keep your government hands off my Medicare!” The public now seems to be warming up to the Affordable Care Act, which is becoming increasingly popular among everyone but senior citizens. There are certainly bumps in the road ahead for the health care law as massive changes to the system are enacted, as well as legitimate concerns about cost control. But as the more consumer-friendly elements of the law take hold, rgw more difficult it will be come to convince the public that the government should take these benefits away.

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  • Suzy Khimm was a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones from March 2010 until June 2011. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here.