Skip to main content

Why Democrats aren't bragging about Obamacare's good news

By Z. Byron Wolf, CNN
updated 8:00 PM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 3.3 million signed up during the four months of Obamacare open enrollment so far
  • The ratio of people 18 to 34 signing up for plans increased to 25%
  • Despite this success, Democratic strategists will likely not advise candidates to run on Obamacare
  • Republicans will still use problems with Obamacare to hit Democrats hard

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration's got some good news on Obamacare.

Scratch that. It was arguably great news.

Despite the jumbo embarrassment of a flawed rollout, a website that barely worked for more than a month, and hellfire and brimstone headlines that impacted public perceptions of the law, it turns out people are signing up. Millions of them.

According to data released Wednesday, more than 1 million people signed up for private health insurance under the Obamacare exchanges during January. That raised the open enrollment total during the first four months to 3.3 million.

Obamacare sign-ups jump to 3.3 million

With six weeks left for people to enroll under current deadlines, there is an outside chance the Obama administration could hit its goal of 7 million by the end of March.

Seems like a big deal, right?

You wouldn't know it from the way the White House rolled out the news, quietly on a media conference call with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Is Obamacare REALLY killing 2M jobs?
Obama: ACA delay not meant to 'punish'
'Obamacare increases employment cost'
CBO: Obamacare means fewer workers

There was no TV-friendly event featuring President Barack Obama. Instead, he appeared in public on Wednesday only to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for the employees of contractors entering into new agreements with the federal government.

Read the new report

Sure, that's a big symbolic move. But its impact is fractional compared to those affected by a fully functioning health law.

Plus, the ratio of sign ups 18 to 34 ticked up in the last reporting month to 25% of the total. And they're buying mid-range plans that are more generous but cost more with higher monthly premiums.

It's not the 40% young people ratio that government economists have said will be needed to make the program financially workable.

But the administration's argument has always been younger enrollees -- less interested in the law and less in need of benefits -- would generally be the last to sign up.

New system system to measure payments for Obamacare coverage

So why then, as National Review points out, is the Political Action Committee controlled by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi running TV ads for Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in Florida that don't brag about how the law is turning around? Instead, Garcia is promising to stand up to insurance companies to fix it.

Obama, in his State of the Union address in January, implored Republicans to work with Democrats on the law instead of continuing the years long political game of finding ways to vote against it. A strategy that Democrats quickly found ways to squelch in the Senate.

"Let's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans," Obama said. "The first 40 were plenty."

Republicans, even as they clearly move away from a strategy of trying to repeal the law, will still use it as a political bludgeon against Democrats in the run up to midterm elections.

It remains an issue that is important to the GOP base. Democrats, for their part, will try to frame Republican assaults on the law as attempts to take something tangible -- cancer treatment, say, or health insurance -- away from people.

Talking to Democratic strategists, you won't hear any of them telling candidates to run on Obamacare no matter how good the numbers look and no matter if it starts to appear that the law is working.

And you can't blame them. For all the talk of Obamacare as Obama's signature -- literally, his name is in the colloquial title -- achievement, the law dominated the political conversation for years.

The backlash cost Democrats their majority in the House. Public support, never strong, is still below 50% for the Affordable Care Act even as millions sign up for coverage.

New delay ensures Obamacare to be issue in 2014, 2016 elections

That's why even as portions of the law seem ready to finally, potentially, work, Democrats seem keen to move on even as they try not to run away from the politics of Obamacare.

"There's a disconnect between talking about numbers in the exchanges and how this law affects people in their every day lives," said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

"Democratic candidates are going to be talking about preexisting conditions, consumer protections, protecting Medicare benefits. These are health care issues that relate to people in (their) every day lives and Republicans are on the wrong side of these issues," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT