Among the takeaways from Democratic election victories in Kentucky and Virginia this month is that support for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) continues to earn support for Democrats, as it did in the 2018 midterms.
As the Democratic presidential candidates rightly debate what health care should look like going forward, the party should continue reminding voters that the Obamacare model, while far from perfect, can work in the meantime if properly supported. It is a model that the Republican Party, from top to bottom, is still trying to destroy.
President Barack Obama’s signature policy initiative was an attempt to extend health insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans who didn’t previously have it — a situation that was not only morally intolerable in the richest nation on earth but that contributed to making American health care overly expensive with inadequate outcomes.
Obamacare ensured that people with preexisting medical conditions could get affordable coverage, something that had always been denied to them by the private insurance industry. The program also used state-level expansion of Medicaid — the government’s health care system for the poor — to cover more Americans.
The GOP has fought those reforms tooth and nail for a decade now. Red states like Missouri refused to expand Medicaid, sacrificing their own poor for the sake of the GOP’s ideological belief that access to health care isn’t a right. Congressional Republicans tried and failed repeatedly to repeal it. The party finally settled for filing a pending federal lawsuit that, if successful, would throw millions of citizens with preexisting conditions off their insurance.
Once, when America was still unsure about Obamacare, Democrats shied from boldly campaigning on it. But with polls showing steady growth in the program’s popularity — despite the problems caused largely by Republican sabotage efforts — candidates in hotly contested races recently in Kentucky and Virginia made defense of the program a campaign mainstay. The results should be etched in stone for other Democrats running next year.
The winner in Kentucky’s governor race, Democrat Andy Beshear, and Democrats who took control of Virginia’s legislature, all made the Affordable Care Act prominent features of their campaigns. They reminded voters that people with preexisting conditions remain under threat of having their coverage revoked and that Republican plans fail to address the potential consequences. They reminded poor communities that their own Republican leaders have denied them coverage under expanded Medicaid and would continue doing so.
In both states, Republicans campaigned like it was 2010 — slamming a program that has since pulled some 20 million people out of uninsured hell.
It was a losing argument. Democrats running next year should heed that message and make it clear to the voters that 2020 will be a fight for, and against, affordable health care.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.