For the first time since they've polled people on the Affordable Care Act, more Americans like Obamacare than dislike it, according to a CBS/New York Times poll. And an overwhelming majority of citizens like the tax subsidies. Most feel the law works but could be improved with changes. The change they want is different from what opponents are talking about, however.
Instead of double-digit leads for those who disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, supporters now hold a three-point lead over opponents, 47 percent to 44 percent. An even greater majority, 70 percent, "think the Supreme Court should rule to continue the government financial assistance that helps low and moderate income people buy health insurance." And the Supreme Court ruled that way today.
Contrast that with the 21-point advantage opponents had on the ACA in March 2010, or the 31-point lead opponents had back in 2013, according to CBS and The New York Times. But CBS/New York Times polling saw the number of supporters grow from 31 percent to 41 percent and the opponents shrink from 61 percent to 53 percent back in March 2014, as Obamacare began to take effect.
So why are Americans still split on Obamacare, despite popular support for the ruling? Not all agree with the benefits of the ACA. My senator, David Perdue (R-Georgia), just sent out an email to me and others on his list, saying:
Today's ruling doesn't change the fact that Obamacare is a disaster and should be entirely repealed. Right now, many Georgians are seeing their premiums skyrocket by double-digits, their hours cut back because of the employer mandate, and less access to the doctors of their choice because of the empty promises made by President Obama. These aren't theoretical problems discussed in a courtroom. They are real-world economic problems caused by Obamacare. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered alternative.
The CBS/New York Times poll did find only 9 percent think Obamacare is working well and shouldn't be changed. But only 31 percent in the survey felt it should be repealed entirely. The majority, 55 percent, feel that the law has "good things, but changes [are] needed."
And, as expected, Democrats are highly for the ACA, and Republicans are very much against it. Independents' support mirrors the findings above, providing the swing vote in favor of the health care law.
So what changes do they want?
It's something barely mentioned by supporters of the ACA, or opponents like Sen. Perdue. It's the individual mandate, something already approved by the Supreme Court three years ago.
A Kaiser Health Policy Tracking Poll that came out at the end of last year provides some clues. About six in 10 like every provision of the Affordable Care Act except the individual mandate.
Support for the mandate increases when respondents are told about the benefits of the individual mandate in reducing healthcare costs and affordable options through employers or exchanges like the ones the Supreme Court validate, according to the Kaiser poll. Opposition remains when they hear about the fine for not purchasing health insurance.
Yet simply repealing that would be tricky, as Northwestern University's Megan McHugh writes:
The individual mandate is the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act. Requiring nearly everyone (there are some exceptions) to purchase health insurance helps to keep premiums low since enrollment includes healthy (i.e., low-cost) in addition to sick (i.e., high-cost) people. The individual mandate, coupled with other provisions in the Act, was central to policy makers' strategy to make health insurance more affordable, and over 16 million adults have gained coverage since the passage of the law.
As long as the fine (either $300 or 2 percent of one's income) remains, the law will probably never achieve a great popularity with the public, even if most of the law has overwhelming support and the Supreme Court continues to uphold the law's provisions.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.