The Affordable Care Act figured prominently in the last two election cycles. Arguments by candidates and media outlets opposed to the law carried the day, especially in the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. It's very likely that the ACA will again play a role in the upcoming midterms. This time, though, the law's successes could have the most impact in the voting booth.
By a number of measures, the story of the Affordable Care Act has been a positive one. Cost projections by the Congressional Budget Office for both the ACA, and healthcare spending in general, have actually gone down. More than 8 million Americans and counting now have access to coverage via the state-level insurance exchanges and more than 5 million have benefited from the expansion of Medicaid. Despite a very messy rollout, the exchanges continue to grow, with the number of insurers offering plans in 2015 increasing by 25 percent. This could be part of the reason that, in several cities, the prices of plans are now falling. And contrary to what many opponents of the law claimed, the ACA did not cause a massive loss of jobs.
In fact, the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which tracks both how many people work 35 hours or less and whether they choose to work part-time or do so involuntarily because they can't find full-time work — show that involuntary part-time employment has actually decreased since the exchanges opened. Over the same time, the number of people who chose to work part-time has gone up.
A closer look at the data reveals that young parents made up the biggest part of this increase. This essentially means that now that working people can get health insurance from the exchanges, they are no longer locked into a full-time job because they need to rely on their employer for coverage. Parents can now work part-time to accommodate the needs of family life. While the picture will become clearer as more data come in, freedom from "job lock" could make it easier for would-be entrepreneurs to quit their jobs or cut back on their hours to work on building their own businesses. It could allow people to work fewer hours to care for family members with serious health condition (whom insurers now have to cover under the ACA) or allow near-retirees to move to part-time work and still have coverage. Furthermore, since the job market still hasn't fully recovered from the recession, people voluntarily choosing to switch to part-time employment will open up full-time jobs for people who need more hours.
All of this represents an opportunity for Democrats running for office this year.
In 2010 and 2012, opponents of the ACA made numerous claims about the horrendous consequences for the country if the law was not repealed immediately. The law was still abstract and without any evidence to prove otherwise, scare stories and dire warnings of soaring prices and job cuts were successful.
The actual data since implementation stand in stark contrast to the fear-mongering of the last few years. There will be some instances where the ACA falls short. It is a very large, very comprehensive law. More people are seeing the positives of the program every day. As these trends continue, the negative anecdotes will be replaced with stories of a cousin or neighbor who finally was able to get insured under the ACA. Those who doubted the program will be hard pressed to deny its benefits. If Republicans were able to successfully campaign on possible negatives of the ACA that never materialized, Democrats should embrace the benefits of the law their party passed in spite of stark opposition from the other side of the aisle, and make it a core component of their platforms. The success of the ACA is something that Democrats should be running on, not running from.
Barber is the domestic communications director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).