Though roll-out troubles for the Affordable Care Act began almost immediately with the start of the open-enrollment period on Oct. 1, polls showed support for “Obamacare” fairly stable for the first month. That’s begun to change.
Last week, Gallup showed public turning against the law in greater numbers, and today, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows a similar trend. Indeed, the new survey results are pretty brutal across the board – President Obama’s standing has taken a severe hit.
None of this comes as a surprise. In recent weeks, there’s been a feeding frenzy over health care – the dysfunctional website, the cancelation notices, the breathless speculation about whether Obama is a “liar” or the “biggest liar ever” – and the American mainstream is bound to react after being told countless times that ACA rollout troubles are Watergate, Katrina, Iraq, and Iran-Contra all rolled up into one.
If the polls didn’t swing heavily against the law and the White House, one would have to start questioning the validity of the results.
There is, however, a certain irony to the sharp shift in public attitudes: things are starting to get a little better.
Despite the disastrous rollout of the federal government’s healthcare website, enrollment is surging in many states as tens of thousands of consumers sign up for insurance plans made available by President Obama’s health law.A number of states that use their own systems, including California, are on track to hit enrollment targets for 2014 because of a sharp increase in November, according to state officials.“What we are seeing is incredible momentum,” said Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the nation’s largest state insurance marketplace…. Several other states, including Connecticut and Kentucky, are outpacing their enrollment estimates, even as states that depend on the federal website lag far behind. In Minnesota, enrollment in the second half of October ran at triple the rate of the first half, officials said. Washington state is also on track to easily exceed its October enrollment figure, officials said.
To be sure, this is likely cold comfort to those running into trouble on the federal website, but the “surge” in enrollment numbers nevertheless suggests increased interest in signing up for coverage and strong demand for benefits. Once healthcare.gov is on track – if it gets on track – there’s ample reason to believe enrollment totals will show marked improvement everywhere.
Indeed, even the federal site is showing signs of improvement. Jon Chait noted yesterday, “Lost in the Keep Your Plan imbroglio, it appears that healthcare.gov has already reached a point of functionality. It can currently handle 20,000–25,000 simultaneous users. That may or may not qualify as a full Hanukkah Miracle fixed website by the end of the month, but it’s probably enough, at the very least, to let the law muddle through.”
The truth has always been obvious, though unsatisfying for those eager for hair-on-fire speculation: early stumbles aren’t nearly as important as strong finishes. How a team plays in the first quarter is of interest, but the final score is determinative.
If the Obama administration can’t correct its mistakes and address ongoing problems, a genuine political crisis will unfold. But if the administration can improve the system and resolve concerns, the Health Care Panic of the Fall of 2013 will fade away. Several years from now, when tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans have coverage, and tens of millions more cherish the benefits and health care security they lacked before, someone will say, “Remember when the political world was apoplectic for a couple of months about rollout troubles and Obama took a hit in some polls?”
And the answer will very likely be, “Not really.”