The GOP Got It Spectacularly Wrong on the ACA

In what has perhaps been their defining argument of the Obama Presidency, the Republican Party predicted that the ACA would bring economic ruin to the United States. More than a year into the ACA implementation we are finding the exact opposite has occurred – while making historic gains in reducing the uninsured, seeing overall health care cost increases slow and federal spending come in under projections, the US economy saw one of its most precipitous drops in the unemployment rate, high GDP growth, and declining annual federal deficits.

Let’s look at some data:

In the past year and a half, the uninsured rate has fallen from 18.0% of the U.S. Adult population to 12.9%. Simultaneously, the unemployment rate has fallen from 7.2% to 5.6% and on average in 2014 the U.S. economy saw over 245,000 jobs added on average each month.

This news is a far cry from the predictions that many in the Republican Party alarmed the public about. From 2010 – 2014, members of the GOP sought to repeal the ACA because it would be a job killer, and devastate the American economy:

• Speaker John Boehner said in 2010: “We need to repeal this jobs-killing government takeover of health care and enact real reforms that will lower health care costs and help small businesses get back to creating jobs."
• Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in 2012: "We now know that Obamacare has been one of the single biggest drags on job creation since early 2010."
• In 2013, Former Governor Jeb Bush called the ACA “flawed to its core,” and proclaimed, “I don’t think it’ll work.”

Paul Ryan claimed that “Health care spending is driving the explosive growth of our debt. And the president's law is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy.” From the very beginning, the CBO noted that the ACA would lower deficits (and repealing the act would increase them). Recent data from the CBO shows that the ACA’s provisions are 20% cheaper to implement than initially predicted in 2010.

In fact, the ACA is playing a role in bending the overall cost curve according to recent study by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The 6.0% growth rate that accompanies the implementation of the ACA is below the historical average.

According to a recent CBS News Poll, 53% of the American public believes that the economy is “good.” This is the highest recorded view of a favorable rating on the U.S. Economy since 2007.

As we head into a Presidential cycle, the issue of how wrong the GOP has been on the ACA has to become a material part of the debate. Opposition to the ACA and the hysterical claims made to its impact on the US has been the defining GOP issue of the Obama Presidency. It is an echo of their opposition to the 1993 Clinton budget, which brought about the longest and one of the most robust periods of growth in recent American history. In each of the last two Democratic Presidencies, the GOP have made big economic arguments that now have to be seen as spectacularly wrong.

Annual Budget Deficit

But this fits into a far broader and more salient reality of the last two and a half decades of American politics. As we reported in a recent study, the GOP also got basic economics wrong when they were in power. Each of the last two GOP Presidencies brought recession, weak stock markets and higher deficits. By contrast, each of the last two Democratic administrations brought growth, lower deficits and soaring stock markets.

The contrast between the modern Democratic Party’s economic performance and literacy versus the bad performance and wrong-headed economic policy of the modern GOP will likely emerge as one of the most important issues of the 2016 campaign.

Update—March 17:

Recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services highlights the greater success of the Affordable Care Act. According to HHS 16.4 million people, who were previously uninsured, gained access to health insurance thanks to the ACA. This corresponds with a drop of about 35% of the entire uninsured population of the United States—a massive change in over eighteen months. The uninsured rate fell even more sharply for Hispanics (12 percentage points) and African Americans (9 percentage points).

We also learned that the issue of people having their plans cancelled is far less of a concern. The Urban Institute released new data this week, which showed that only 400,000 Americans lost their plans on the individual markets due to those plans not meeting new ACA standards. In the total market for 2014, there were only around 900,000 cancelled plans. In fact, health insurance providers offered more new plans to accommodate customers. Moving forward, experts expect cancellations to be less of a factor.

What this continued positive news shows is that the GOP continues to be wrong in their crusade against the Affordable Care Act. More and more people are gaining insurance, while the GOP’s dire predictions have simply not come to pass. Their efforts are now more clearly defined as taking insurance away from at least 16.4 million Americans (and possibly more).

NDN President Simon Rosenberg contributed to this analysis.