The aftershocks from this failure are already rattling many windows. The most immediate damage is measured in Obama’s declining ratings for competence, trustworthiness, and overall performance. Although surveys have not yet found any gusting demand for repeal, they continue to record gale-force misgivings about the law’s impact, particularly among whites. In the exit polls taken during Virginia gubernatorial election last week, two-thirds of whites said they opposed the law; incredibly, a 52 percent majority of white voters said they strongly opposed it (three-fourths of minorities, meanwhile, said they backed the law).
This resurgence of resistance has emboldened Republicans and significantly increased the odds that the 2016 GOP presidential nominee will again run on repealing the law, as Mitt Romney did in 2012. It has also unnerved the president’s party. The Democratic confusion was visible in former President Clinton’s suggestion this week that Obama should allow consumers receiving cancellation notices in the existing individual market to keep their current plans.
Because the individual market now largely excludes the sick (through rules such as denying coverage for preexisting conditions), the relatively modest number of Americans who use it tend to be healthy. If they are allowed to remain outside the new system, the more comprehensive policies sold on the exchanges could tilt too heavily toward the old and sick. And that, notes Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, “would generate a huge [premium] rate shock in 2015” that could further discourage the healthy from enrolling and risk a fatal downward spiral.
Even if the former president intended to distance Hillary Rodham Clinton from the backlash with his remarks, his remedy would expose her, and other Democrats, to greater risk that the new system will sink entirely and submerge them all in future elections. Helping those losing policies to afford new coverage makes more sense for Democrats than allowing them to remain outside the system.