Obamacare Has Lost the Uninsured



Obamacare has lost the uninsured.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week asked uninsured individuals whether or not they thought the law was a good idea. Just 24 percent said they thought it was. In contrast, half the uninsured polled said they thought it was a bad idea. As the Journal points out, that represents an 11 point drop in support for the law amongst the uninsured since September. The same poll also finds that 56 percent of the uninsured believe the law will have a negative effect on the U.S. health care system.

Let that sink in: What that means is that regardless of how bad the old system—the system that for whatever reason left them uninsured—was, a majority of people without health coverage now think that Obamacare makes it worse. 

That's how poorly the rollout of the health law is perceived to have gone. The exact group the law was designed to help have instead turned on the law. It's never been particularly popular with the wider public, but now even those who were supposed to be beneficiaries are skeptical.

That's more than a political problem. It's a policy problem—a threat to the law's viability, especially when combined with other recent poll numbers showing that young people, who are crucial to the law's coverage scheme, are rejecting the law as well. A Harvard Institute of Politics Poll released earlier this month found that 56 percent of young adults age 18-29 don't approve of the health law. Only 29 percent of uninsured young adults said they expected to enroll.

As the sharp declines of the last few months show, poll numbers can always shift,  sometimes rapidly. But if these low numbers persist, it represents a body blow for the law. It's telling that Americans are now so soured on Obamacare that a majority say they would prefer to go back to the old system, flaws and all. As this week's Reason-Rupe poll found, 55 percent of Americans now say they prefer the old, pre-Obamacare health care regime.

Numbers like those will help fuel efforts to repeal or otherwise block the law, regardless of whether or not there's a replacement. They should also make Obamacare-friendly Democrats up for reelection more than a little nervous.

When the health law passed back in 2010, the thinking amongst many Democrats was that controversy around the overhaul would eventually fade, and the law would become popular as people felt its effects. Part of the thinking behind that argument was that the American health system was already so bad that nothing could really be worse. But nearly four years later, with the law's health exchanges launched, its various interim benefits in place, and its biggest insurance market changes just weeks away from kicking in, the verdict from the public is in: Obamacare isn't just a bad system. It's a bad system that's worse than the old bad system. And at least for now, even the uninsured, the people who supposedly stand to gain the most from the law, think so too.