Nearly half of Americans either believe Obamacare has been repealed or are unsure

Posted on March 23, 2011

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President Obama signs his health care reform into law.

It has been approximately one year since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as “Obamacare”) was signed into law by the president.  But according to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22% of Americans believe the law has already been repealed while 26% “do not know enough to say whether it is still law”.

Throughout our nation’s history, whenever the country has been starkly divided on a particular piece of legislation floating around on Capitol Hill, the simple act of passing it into law has often worked wonders in increasing the popularity of the bill.  From  the 1960s Civil Rights Acts to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (“Welfare Reform”), landmark laws that have brought major change have all passed not without a noteworthy sect of dissenters voting “noe”, but in time these dissenters have faded away and support for these laws has become mainstream consensus.  Naturally, significant change is bound to bring fear and controversy, but when people recognize the change has more of a positive impact than a negative one, the irrational panic dwindles along with the arguments.  Further, when change goes into the books as official and indisputable law, it acquires a certain connotation of authority that has the power to sway the opinions of moderates and its less extreme opponents.

Which is why Republicans embarked on a quest to repeal Obamacare as soon as it became law, going so far as to make it their number one priority of the 2010 campaign cycle.  They know now that with a Democratic Senate and President, the law will not actually be repealed, but this has not stopped them.  Why?  Because this is a message war, not a legislative one.  The Republicans made it clear that it was purely about message and not actual lawmaking when they put forth the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” within a week of taking over the House of Representatives.  The name of the bill itself was laughable, not only for its unorthodoxy, but for the fictitious allegation it put forth. Media Matters has debunked the right-wing claim that the health care bill will “kill” 800,000 jobs, citing the CBO report (the same report Republicans cite when making this claim) which states that people who currently work solely for the purpose of attaining health care benefits from their employers will likely choose to drop these jobs once the new exchanges are up and running.  While no jobs will be “killed”, the number of hours that people will choose not to work will be equivalent to 800,000 jobs, which actually means 800,000 jobs will be open to people who need to work for money and not just health care.  Of course, such inconvenient truths are ignored by Republicans who are mainly interested in using the “Repeal Obamacare” message to delegitimize Barack Obama’s first term and sink him politically for the 2012 presidential election.

And based on the KFF poll, I would say they are succeeding.  Just by making the prospect of repeal an issue, they have convinced almost 50% of Americans that the law no longer exists, stripping the legislation of its legal authority and political clout.

The Democrats in a way brought this on themselves by passing a bill that basically does not go into effect until 2014.  Certainly, many Americans have benefited from the immediately implemented provisions of the bill (it forces insurance companies to cover all children with pre-existing conditions and allows parents to keep their kids on their insurance plans until they are 26 years old), but we will not see the legislation’s chief components (the individual mandate and the regulated exchanges) go into operation until 2014.  This delay gives the Republicans a feeling that the floor is still open for debate.  In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson’s signature was not an end to the civil rights debate, rather it was just a stepping stone in a long process of reform.  The real work came afterwards when black students and white students for the first time had to attend the same schools and learn how to get along with one another.  Similarly, there will be plenty of backlash in 2014 from citizens who are fined for failing to honor the individual mandate and there will be a long and arduous adjustment period for hospitals conforming to the new efficiency standards.

Even if reforms are necessary, they can take years to become fully accepted by the country.  Only seven out of 97 House members from southern states and one out of 21 southern Senators voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Four years later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (a.k.a. the Fair Housing Act) came to the floor, not much had changed:  12 out of 105 southern House members and three of 20 southern Senators voted in favor.  Today, not only do southern states abide by these laws, but most southern citizens and public officials consider them integral to American life.

Turning back to health care: Republicans would like nothing more than to extend the debate over Obamacare through to the next decade; Democrats have only aided them in this endeavor by delaying the implementation of the law’s provisions and failing to communicate the positive aspects of the bill to the public.

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Posted in: Health Care