These Americans Hated the Health Law. Until the Idea of Repeal Sank In.


 

Five years ago, the Affordable Care Act had yet to begin its expansion of health insurance to millions of Americans, but Jeff Brahin was already stewing about it.

“It’s going to cost a fortune,” he said in an interview at the time.

This week, as Republican efforts to repeal the law known as Obamacare appeared all but dead, Mr. Brahin, a 58-year-old lawyer and self-described fiscal hawk, said his feelings had evolved.

“As much as I was against it,” he said, “at this point I’m against the repeal.”

“Now that you’ve insured an additional 20 million people, you can’t just take the insurance away from these people,” he added. “It’s just not the right thing to do.”

As Mr. Brahin goes, so goes the nation.

When President Trump was elected, his party’s long-cherished goal of dismantling the Affordable Care Act seemed all but assured. But eight months later, Republicans seem to have done what the Democrats who passed the law never could: make it popular among a majority of Americans.

Support for the Affordable Care Act has risen since the election — in some polls, sharply — with more people now viewing the law favorably than unfavorably. Voters have besieged their representatives with emotional telephone calls and rallies, urging them not to repeal, one big reason Republicans have had surprising trouble in fulfilling their promise despite controlling both Congress and the White House.

The change in public opinion may not denote newfound love of the Affordable Care Act so much as dread of what might replace it. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that both the House and Senate proposals to replace the law would result in over 20 million more uninsured Americans. The shift in mood also reflects a strong increase in support for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor that the law expanded to cover far more people, and which faces the deepest cuts in its 52-year history under the Republican plans.

Most profound, though, is this: After years of Tea Party demands for smaller government, Republicans are now pushing up against a growing consensus that the government should guarantee health insurance. A Pew survey in January found that 60 percent of Americans believe the federal government should be responsible for ensuring that all Americans have health coverage. That was up from 51 percent last year, and the highest in nearly a decade.

The belief held even among many Republicans: 52 percent of those making below $30,000 a year said the federal government has a responsibility to ensure health coverage, a huge jump from 31 percent last year. And 34 percent of Republicans who make between $30,000 and about $75,000 endorsed that view, up from 14 percent last year.

“The idea that you shouldn’t take coverage away really captured a large share of people who weren’t even helped by this bill,” said Robert Blendon, a health policy expert at Harvard who has closely followed public opinion of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2012, when The New York Times talked to Mr. Brahin and others here in Bucks County, Pa., a perennial swing district outside Philadelphia, their attitudes on the law tracked with national polls that showed most Americans viewed it unfavorably.

But now, too, sentiment here reflects the polls — and how they have shifted. Many people still have little understanding of how the law works. But Democrats and independents have rallied around it, and many of those who opposed it now accept the law, unwilling to see millions of Americans stripped of the coverage that it extended to them.

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