By Tom Baxter
This is the time of year when sparring primary candidates tune up the messages their parties will carry in the fall. The early ads in Georgia’s 6th District primary give a clear picture where Democrats are headed this year.
Businessman Kevin Abel talks about how when he was diagnosed with cancer, his first concern was whether he’d let his health insurance premiums lapse. “In Congress, I’ll take on Trump to heal our healthcare system,” the Democrat says.
His primary rival, former CBS46 newscaster Bobby Kaple, is pictured in his first ad with his twin children, who were born preemies and spent 17 days in the Piedmont Hospital NICU.
“It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them alive — thank God for Obamacare,” Kaple says.
Note that in this ad, aimed admittedly at Democrats but still in Tom Price’s home district, he doesn’t call it the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare, used as a term of disparagement by Republicans through the last four election cycles, has been taken up by Democrats this year as a battle cry.
— Bobby Kaple (@BobbyKaple) April 11, 2018
These ads are picking up on the issue John Ossoff highlighted in his special election campaign last year, but this year the message is more full-throated. And while it’s particular notable in the district of the architect of the repeal-and-replace effort, we can expect to hear it echoed in races across the country.
It has been more than a year since unfavorable opinions of the Affordable Care Act were greater than favorable opinions in tracking polling conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. With the word Trumpcare gaining traction in the headlines, the Republican notion that any future problems in the system can be blamed on the Democrats have disappeared.
Although some health care expenditures like the extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and increased funding for programs to combat opioid abuse made it into the budget bill this year, the effort led by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on the Republican side to stabilize ACA insurance markets heading into this year’s elections was unsuccessful.
That leaves little to cushion vulnerable Republican candidates when insurers announce their 2019 premiums this October, a few weeks before elections are held. According to one recent survey, premiums in Georgia will rise by 19.5 percent, the 14th highest increase in the nation.
If the increases are as steep as predicted, there are likely to be American families which will see higher healthcare costs erase what they gain through the cut in income tax rate, which makes health care a truly double-edged danger to Republican incumbents.
This all represents a remarkable turnaround from the days when Republican members of Congress availed themselves of every chance they got to vote to abolish the ACA, and Democrats flinched at the mention of Obamacare. But it wasn’t unpredictable. The debate over health care has always been a “compared to what” argument. Compared to their ideas for how the old system should have been reformed, the public has been measured in its enthusiasm for the ACA. As a metaphor for resentment of Obama in general, Obamacare was also highly effective for its opponents.
Compared to zilch, however, Obamacare was bound to start looking better, whatever label you put on it.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since the repeal-and-replace effort collapsed with no coherent plan for what to do next, but the health care debacle remains central to the outcome of this fall’s elections. Democratic strategists in Washington are said to be honing in the Republican “culture of corruption” as the focus of their message this year, and that subject does offer them a lot of material to work with. People expect a certain amount of corruption in their political system, however. They don’t expect to be uninsured.
This year’s congressional elections are not the slam dunk for Democrats which they are often portrayed to be. The polls which show them holding a decisive advantage on health care also show a progressive decline in support on other issues.
And what about Trump? He can still have more impact on U.S.-North Korean relations than he is ever likely to have again on the health care debate. Which is, yes, a scary thought.