Obamacare: Are Americans Right to Fear Rising Healthcare Costs?

A number of polls show that the Affordable Care Act is just as unpopular than ever. After remaining steady for several months, the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that the share of the American public expressing an unfavorable view of the healthcare law rose to 53 percent in July, an increase of 8 percentage points from the previous month’s reading. That jump was accompanied by a decrease in the number of respondents who declined to give their opinion on the reform, dropping from 16 percent in June to 11 percent last month.

The share of Americans who view the law favorably has remained fairly stable since March, when the first enrollment period for the reform’s healthcare exchanges ended. While that measure edged down to 37 percent from June’s 39 percent, it is above January’s 34 percent.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Republicans continue to oppose the law in greater numbers than their Democratic counterparts, yet the survey showed the increasing dissatisfaction was even across the political spectrum in July. The share of Americans who said lawmakers should continue to improve the law outnumbers those who want the reform be repealed, even among Republicans.

The survey does not expressly give a reason for why Obamacare lost ground, but it’s likely that the cause of increasing dissatisfaction is personal. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed by Kaiser responded that they have not yet been impacted by the Affordable Care Act, but almost twice as many feel the healthcare reform has hurt them and their family, with 28 percent citing increased healthcare and health insurance costs as the reason.

Not only have negative Obamacare advertisements contributed to the public’s opinion about healthcare reform, but given the promises made by the president on the campaign trail, rising healthcare costs will affect how the law is viewed.

Ahead of November’s midterm elections, the most common criticism of the law has been that the Affordable Care Act will be responsible for double-digit price increases in premiums next year, a phenomenon caused by higher-than-expected enrollments of older or sicker individuals, who cost more to insure.

The warnings came from anonymous insurance company officials and conservative healthcare analysts alike. However, the Health Research Institute of consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that insurance companies are only seeking premium price hikes of 8.2 percent, on average.

The average reported by the firm does not detail how price increases will vary from state to state, from insurer to insurer, and between individuals of different ages and health. These differences make the data easy to exploit by politicians in favor or against the healthcare reform, meaning some Americans will see huge price increases, while for others, those premium cost hikes will be much smaller.

Generally, 2014 saw across-the-board premium increases, with women experiencing rate hikes in 82 percent of U.S. counties, and men, a 91 percent jump. Premium price changes ranged from an increase of 271 percent for men in Buchanan County, Missouri, to a 70 percent decrease in northern New York state; on average, premiums rose 49 percent.

Though the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll revealed that most Americans said the law has had little to no direct impact on their lives, rhetorical debate tends to inform public opinion. That debate has created a fear that premium hikes will continue to grow as the law becomes more entrenched.

“I would attribute the swings to the effects of the ACA settling in and perceptions about potentially rising insurance premiums,” Dylan Roby, an assistant professor of health policy at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, said to Bankrate. Bankrate’s data show that only 8 percent of Americans reported that healthcare costs have dropped so far this year, while almost half of those surveyed by the site reported spending more on healthcare costs this year.

Those figures support the Kaiser Family Foundation’s finding that most Americans have not been influenced by the reform. Premiums of individual insurance policies typically increase annually, and an 8 percent increase is well below the 20 to 25 percent annual increases implemented before the reform. “Overall, the 2015 premiums increases will not be significantly worse than they were in the past,” reports The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn.

While Obamacare has not lowered premiums across the board, which was never the reform’s primary goal, it hasn’t jacked premiums, either. At least not yet.

That’s why public opinion regarding the law is changing, according to Deborah Chollet, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C. “Last September and October when they first went onto HealthCare.gov and looked at premiums, while many of them were pleasantly surprised at how low the prices were, that means they now have something to lose,” she told Bankrate.

As Bankrate’s survey results suggest, Americans’ familiarity with the Affordable Act has “reinforced both negative and positive perceptions of President Barack Obama’s historic healthcare reforms.”  Since the reform’s cornerstone provision, the online insurance marketplaces, launched in October, public sentiment has gradually grown more fervent.

The number of respondents who said the law has had a negative effect on their healthcare choices reached a survey high compared with a year ago, rising 9 percentage points to 37 percent. Yet public opinion has turned increasingly positive, as well — those Americans who say the law has had a beneficial effect tied a survey high of 16 percent.

To some degree, age guided the changes in the public’s approval of the Affordable Care Act. Only 13 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 graded Obamacare as a positive change, while 21 percent between the ages of 30 and 49 said their healthcare situation improved as a result of the reform.

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