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Jury out on Obamacare election impact

Matt Pommer

A recent Marquette University Law School poll shows 52 percent of respondents saying Obamacare should be kept and improved.

Only 18 percent said the Affordable Health Care Act should be repealed and not replaced.

That’s a stunning split in Wisconsin, which is narrowly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Only 8 percent of the 801 people who answered the poll’s questions say Obamacare should be continued as it is. Another 18 percent said they want the law repealed but with an alternative.

The poll was conducted in late March while the initial signup deadline was approaching.

Republican politicians, almost to a person, have repeatedly called for the repeal of the health care act. It has been one of the signal accomplishments of Democrats under President Obama.

The Marquette Poll doesn’t ask how the law could be improved. That’s the challenge for both parties.

The law is aimed at assuring that all Americans have health insurance. It’s not a new topic. Presidents ranging from Democrat Harry Truman to Republican Richard Nixon have promoted the idea of health care opportunities for everyone.

How will the Obamacare issue affect future elections?

Respondents to the Marquette poll were split into two groups. The first group was asked how they would react to candidates who supported Obamacare during the campaign. Of that group, 25 percent replied that a pro-Obamacare stance would more likely attract their vote, while 28 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate. Another 45 percent said it wouldn’t make any difference to them.

The potential statistical error rate was 3.5 percent making the results even closer.

The second group of respondents was asked their reaction to candidates who campaigned for repeal of Obamacare. Some 24 percent said it would make them more likely to support such a candidate while 35 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for the person. Some 39 percent of this half said it wouldn’t make any difference.

The political jury is still out on Obamacare. Last October, 40 percent liked the law and 48 percent opposed it. In January when the signup efforts were snarled with problems, support slipped to 35 percent. Then in late March, the favorable percent in the Marquette polling bounced back to 39 percent with 50 percent having an unfavorable view.

It’s important to remember the situation before Obamacare was enacted. Those without health insurance often used hospital emergency rooms as their door to health care. They often were without funds, and their hospitals recouped their expenditures by increasing the costs charged to those with health insurance.

Other health care issues are expected to enter the 2014 and 2016 elections. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, continues to push a long-term federal budget-balancing plan that would privatize Medicare and let states fashion their own Medicaid programs for the poor.

Ryan, who was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, has repeatedly backed the privatizing of Medicare over time by providing grants the elderly and handicapped would use to purchase health insurance. That sounds something like Obamacare financing. Those now 54 and older would be grandfathered into the existing Medicare system under Ryan’s plan.

Gov. Scott Walker seemed to be buying into Ryan’s program when he rejected hundreds of millions dollars of additional federal Medicaid funds for Wisconsin. The governor raised doubts the federal government could continue to provide large-scale aid to help for expanded Medicaid programs for the near poor. State governments could be stuck with higher costs, according to Walker.

Walker, who is mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate, apparently believes the federal government would prohibit states from determining who would be eligible for Medicaid spending. That seems to fly in the face of Republican talk that states should play the lead role in establishing health-care priorities.

Matt Pommer, a retired reporter for The Capital Times, writes a column distributed by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.