Healthcare reform still a long way from being popular

Remember when healthcare reform was going to become more popular after it was passed? At its six-month anniversary you can tell it's a crowd-pleaser when the only Democrats who mention it on the campaign trail are those who want to let you know they voted against it.

Clearly, the end of discrimination against the sick by insurance companies is a universally compelling policy goal, and one that has likely changed the lives of many anxious Americans who are now battling conditions and diseases with insurance instead of without it. But reaching that goal required expanding access, which required a mandate to purchase insurance, and a majority of Americans now oppose the law for that reason alone. Many who oppose the mandate are already insured, but they don't want the government telling them they have to do something. They see healthcare reform as part of a continuum of increased government intervention that started with the Wall Street bailout, went further with the enormous stimulus package, and even further with the auto industry rescues and on and on.

Turning public opinion on healthcare reform around in time for this election is not possible. And though it may be possible for President Obama and the Democrats to do so later on, it could take years. To start with, as long as the economy suffers, any mention of healthcare reform becomes a reminder that Obama somehow focused more on a handful of problems than on the most important problem as the economy continued to shed jobs throughout 2009. Will the benefits of healthcare reform seem more attractive in a better economy? Of course, but again, this could be many, many years off.

Obama held a high-profile event in a family's backyard in Virginia this week to highlight the benefits of the law and admitted it isn't as attractive to a majority of Americans as he expected it to be and he wishes he had talked it up more.

"Sometimes I fault myself for not having been able to make the case more clearly to the country," he said.

Adding to the anti-Washington, anti-government mood of the country, there are serious challenges arising in the area of healthcare as a result of the reforms Congress passed in March. Insurance companies are planning to stop providing child-only plans to new customers and only honor those with existing coverage. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, WellPoint, Cigna and CoventryOne cited uncertainty in the market for their decisions to avoid complying with the new law.

Another potential consequence of the law is the likelihood, also reported by the Post, that drug companies will simply raise prescription drug prices in order to make up for revenue lost in the new discounts provided to seniors who fall into the "doughnut hole."

Doesn't look like healthcare reform will be much more popular in September of 2011, especially with more Republicans in the Congress trying to repeal key portions of the law. How popular will it be in September of 2012?


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