Democrats could rob Republicans of their ability to use healthcare reform as a weapon against them in this year’s election if they can sell voters on the new law’s ability to cut costs, a new poll suggests.
The survey, conducted by the polling firm TNS, appears to contradict the notion that the Democrats’ healthcare reform — which was enacted into law this week during a triumphant White House ceremony — would be a slam-dunk issue for the GOP in congressional elections this fall. The poll provides what could be a roadmap for Democrats to turn what could be a major anchor around their necks in November into a positive, potentially changing the tone of the entire campaign.
Public opposition to health reform rose steadily over the last year as the legislation came under united and fierce attack by the GOP, and that opposition led many House Democrats to fence-sit on the issue until nearly the very end, with President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other high-level reform backers cajoling nervous lawmakers. Even then, some 34 Democrats still came out against the reform when the last votes were counted late Sunday.
Angry Republicans have been using healthcare reform as an election issue even more loudly since the House sent its bill to the president’s desk. Just a day after Obama signed the reform bill that has become the centerpiece of his presidency, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio appeared on Fox News to say that he would work to repeal it, “if I were the Speaker of the House, and [Republicans] were the majority” in Congress.
But TNS says that, while 75 percent of those polled are concerned with the projected rise in health care costs, but that the public is not as opposed as perhaps Republicans are counting on.
“The research shows the public support for health reform is stronger than one might expect, and that concerns over its implementation are significant but not overwhelming,” says William Bruno, head of TNS’ insurance practice. “The benefits are expected to exceed the potential side effects –- with careful management.”
The question in the minds of the public seems to be one of cost.
“The new law is expected to improve access to care, but we are still yet unclear as to how it will comprehensively decrease the overall cost of care,” says Rob Haley, senior advisor to TNS on healthcare reform.
This insight would appear to indicate that, if Democrats can answer that question, Republicans would lose one of their most potent tools to whittle away the Democrats’ three-year-old majority on Capitol Hill. The focus on cost concern also would seem to tell Democrats how they need to shape their messaging in the days, weeks and months to come.
Fortunately, the Democrats have a very good story to tell, according to an independent Washington advocacy group that supported healthcare reform.
U.S. PIRG gave the final healthcare bill, along with companion “fixes” working their way through Congress this week under the so-called “reconciliation” process, a grade of “A minus” for its cost-containment provisions. Only the lack of a public option prevents the bill from getting an A, the group says.
“These reforms are game-changers which significantly increase America’s ability to rein in skyrocketing health care costs. We will see affordable coverage for families, lower costs for business, and significantly reduced federal deficits,” says Larry McNeely, federal healthcare advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
The new law achieves this by taming high administrative costs, increasing competition in the insurance market and by “fixing skewed incentives,” to reward quality, well-coordinated care that delivers results rather than paying solely based on the number of tests and procedures, U.S. PIRG says.
“Despite enormous opposition from health industry lobbies, Congress has assembled strong legislation that will help lower health care costs,” McNeely adds. “We congratulate both Houses for enacting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and urge the Senate to quickly finish pass the Reconciliation Act of 2010.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.