Douglas Cohn: Obamacare puts Democrats, Hillary on the defense

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WASHINGTON — Democrats are in a defensive crouch over Obamacare, and that’s not a winning strategy. Last week’s special election in Florida was a real shock because Democrats had a chance to pick up the seat, and they blew it. Democrats didn’t get out their vote like they needed to, and now they’re paying the price, apologizing for Obamacare and going into a funk instead of answering the attacks with facts.

A weak response from the White House and congressional Democrats has allowed all kinds of myths to take hold about the Affordable Care Act. House Speaker John Boehner says there are fewer people covered by health care insurance now than there were before the ACA was signed into law. Asked what he bases that on, he says that millions of people had their policies cancelled because they didn’t meet the standards of the ACA, and he balances that against the 5 million who have signed up for coverage over the exchanges.

The math doesn’t add up, plus he doesn’t take into account the number of people who got new and potentially better plans after their old ones were cancelled. It’s a matter of law by the way if your insurance company cancels your policy, they have to offer an alternative, which is generally more expensive but under the ACA, you might get more for your money. In addition, under the law, you should have more choices on the exchanges, and you might be eligible for a federal subsidy depending on your income.

Those details don’t lend themselves to 30-second ads, and the Republicans have had a field day in electoral contests all over the country lambasting the law with false allegations that Democrats have not successfully answered. Elections generally turn on pocketbook issues, and the GOP is doing a fine job of convincing voters that their insurance rates are going up because of Obamacare.

Insurance premiums are going up, just as they have in the past, but at a somewhat slower rate, a decline that some economists attribute to Obamacare. It’s also true that not everybody is able to keep their favorite doctors depending on the plan they choose, and which networks their doctors choose to align with. This has always been true, but now when people are forced to change doctors because of insurance concerns, they can blame the ACA.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., called the goal of universal health care “the cause of my life,” and President Obama achieved it after a lot of political wrangling, which was not pretty and turned off a lot of voters. Kennedy believed health care is a right that all Americans should have, but someone has to pay for it. It’s not free.

When Chief Justice Roberts became the fifth and deciding vote on the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the ACA, he ruled that the individual mandate that is at the core of the law is really a tax — and as a tax, it is constitutional. In fact, it is a tax, albeit one that returns an immediate benefit in the form of health care. Even so, the public is tax averse, and Republicans are driving the point home.

An unexpected consequence of all this may be Hillary Clinton’s White House aspirations. She will only run if she sees a viable path to victory, and if the Democrats get clobbered in the upcoming November election, she may not see that path.