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Hillary's ObamaCare problem

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE is facing the problem of higher ObamaCare premium hikes in an election year. 

ObamaCare premiums are expected to rise more sharply than they have in previous years, and Republicans are seizing on the issue for electoral advantage.

“Despite premium hikes under ObamaCare, Clinton continues to take credit for the law on the campaign trail,” the Republican National Committee wrote in a recent email, above a compilation of headlines about steep proposed increases.

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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE and Senate Republicans discussed ObamaCare premium hikes at a private meeting this month and agreed they could help the GOP in the election.

And Republican senators took turns heading to the Senate floor this month to denounce ObamaCare premium hikes. 

“Maybe Democrats think the middle class should just get over double-digit premium increases,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.). “Maybe Democrats think it’s funny that millions of Americans lost their plans because of ObamaCare. Republicans think we should work toward better care instead.”

Clinton has acknowledged that high costs remain a problem under ObamaCare, while defending the health law and its benefits overall. 

“I think that the Affordable Care Act is a big step forward for the vast majority of Americans, but we have to look at out of pocket costs, co-pays, deductibles, premiums,” Clinton said at a roundtable discussion this month when a woman asked her about her premium increasing by $500.

When asked by another woman about premium hikes in March, Clinton noted at a CNN town hall that ObamaCare “has done a lot of really good things, but it has become increasingly clear that we are going to have to get the costs down.”

ObamaCare premiums likely won't be the most prominent issue in a campaign that's seen Trump often dominate the news cycle with brash statements about any manner of topics. 

And Trump has his own vulnerabilities on healthcare. He has tacked between different positions on issues. An analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget also found that his plan would lead to 21 million people losing their health insurance because it would repeal the coverage gains from ObamaCare. 

Still, as proposed ObamaCare premium increases roll in, they are gaining attention.  

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said the premium increases are “a real problem, because Americans, I think, expected there'd be some sort of leveling off in [the cost of] healthcare insurance.” 

“But at the same time, they see good things about [ObamaCare],” he added. “That's why I think public opinion is so evenly split.”

Kaiser Family Foundation poll in January found that 44 percent of the public had an unfavorable view of the law, while 41 percent had a favorable view. That is an improved picture for Democrats from 2010 or even 2014. 

More recently, though, the unfavorables have ticked back up due to Democrats unhappy the law does not go further, the Kaiser Family Foundation found.

Bannon also noted that more of the public wants to improve the law, rather than completely repeal it, as Republicans call for. 

The Kaiser poll found that 30 percent want to expand the law, 14 percent want to keep it as is, 11 percent want to scale it back, and 32 percent want to repeal it completely.  

Clinton is with those trying to improve the law, which could give her cover with voters.

Many of her solutions tack to the left. Most prominently, she supports the “public option,” a government-run health insurance alternative to increase competition. 

She said it could take the form of allowing people to buy into Medicare once they reach age 50 or 55 at a roundtable this month. Because the eligible people tend to have higher health costs, shifting them out of the private market and into Medicare could lower costs for everyone else, she noted. 

Clinton has also proposed measures including a new tax credit to help people with out of pocket costs and “vigorously” enforcing antitrust laws to crack down on health insurance company mergers that would reduce competition. 

But the size of premium increases could still spell trouble.

ObamaCare premiums are expected to rise more this year in part because insurers initially set their premiums too low. The pool of enrollees has been smaller and sicker than expected and many insurers now need to raise premiums to stop losing money.

An analysis from the consulting firm Avalere Health last week found that early data from nine states indicate an average 16 percent premium increase, compared to about 6 percent at this point last year. 

There are examples of even bigger increases. Providence Health Plan, one of Oregon’s largest insurers, is seeking a 29.6 percent increase.

There are important caveats, though. The numbers are only proposed increases, and state regulators have the power to review and reject them before they become final. Even if they do go into effect, ObamaCare’s financial assistance caps the percentage of income that most enrollees have to pay, so most people have a cushion against premium increases.

Democrats are ready to employ those arguments to defend Clinton.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (Nev.) made these points on Thursday in response to McConnell’s attacks, and noted that ObamaCare has driven the uninsured rate to a record low of 9.1 percent.

“I’m so happy to have my friend talk about ObamaCare,” Reid said of McConnell. “I’m happy to have him talk about that because he’s making himself not look very good, and that is a gross understatement.”