Obamacare's Individual Mandate Still Wildly Unpopular

BlogHer Original Post

Chalk up President Obama's decision to stop fighting the "Obamacare" label as a public relations victory in redirecting message.

Masterfully handled.

Heart Obamacare
March 27, 2012: Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. -- Protestors supporting and opposed to President Obama's health care reform gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the second day of oral arguments in lawsuits over the law. (Credit Image: © Jay Mallin/ZUMAPRESS.com)

But after hearing today's Supreme Court transcript revealing a split among the nine justices on Obamacare, seems it's gonna take more than embracing a negative label to salvage any of Obamacare -- let alone the wildly unpopuar and constitutionally questionable individual mandate.

Even CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin sputtered on air Tuesday: "This was a train wreck for the Obama Administration. This law looks like it's going to be struck down."

Recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Democrats still have a long way to go to communicate what's so great about the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, the law's popular provisions are still far less well known than the unpopular individual mandate, which has been hammered repeatedly by Republicans and Tea Partiers alike.

Heart Obamacare
(Credit Image: © Pete Marovich/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The mandate raises serious questions over whether the government exceeds its bounds by compelling every person to either get insurance or pay a fine starting at $95 and reaching $695 a per person, or $2,085 per family, by 2016. In fact, such were the arguments made during cross-examination by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

Further, many debate whether the mandate is necessary to get most American insurance or keep health care costs from getting out of control.

Those controversial questions may be behind the reasons why, as the Washington Post recently noted, the president doesn't talk about his once highly touted health care plan more.

Despite his and supporters' greatest efforts, public opinion of the healthcare law hasn't moved much since 2009. More specifically, the way in which the public describes the law as costly and government controlled also hasn't changed.

Altering public opinion and behavior on such a personal issue is a tough row to hoe.

A Washington Post-ABC News Poll, conducted between March 7, 2012 and March 10, 2012, shows that 52 percent of Americans oppose the law and 70 percent say their impression of Obamacare is negative.

The Supreme Court would be doing the Obama Administration a favor by striking down the individual mandate. However, without the mandate, many of the other provisions within the law (popular or not) won't work.

As CBS News noted, Obama ran his campaign arguing against a mandate and later, as president, told Congress a mandate was essential to improving the nation's health care system.

"Unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek -- especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions -- just can't be achieved," Obama said.

The unpopular mandate became the cornerstone keeping the plan together. Popular components, like the guaranteed issue or the community rating, won't work without it.

The guaranteed issue requires health insurers to cover everyone who applies, regardless of pre-existing conditions, while the community rating requires insurers to offer plans within the same price range to all customers.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the mandate, those two provisions also must go away.

Should the measure be struck down entirely, as predicted, by a party line vote of 5-4, it still leaves us to wonder what happens to the nearly 3,000-page health care reform law.

Does Congress start over? Does it try salvaging some of the popular provisions with a new linchpin? Whichever costs the public the least for the greatest political expendiency might just be the answer.

In any case, its doubtful Republican frontrunner plows ahead in attacking Obama over the measure -- but without Obamacare, the president's left without one gigantic bragging right to re-inspire his base come November.

 

Erica Holloway is a BlogHer contributing editor and principal of Galvanized Strategies, a San Diego-based public relations firm. Contact her at erica@galvanizedstrategies.com or follow her @erica_holloway.

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