New Morning Consult polling data shows strong support the Affordable Care Act’s insurance subsidies, even if an impending Supreme Court case rules the current subsidies illegal.
The poll, released Feb. 9, shows 63 percent of respondents favoring a plan to secure subsidized health insurance, should the court rule against subsides in King v. Burwell. The suit, filed last year, challenges the federal government’s ability to distribute subsidies to low-income Americans purchasing health insurance through Healthcare.gov, the federal exchange established by the Affordable Care Act.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents think Americans should have access to healthcare subsides, regardless of whether they come from a state or federal exchange. The poll also separated respondents by those who live in a state with their own exchange, versus a state using a federal exchange. Those living with state-based exchanges were more supportive of subsidies than those living in states with federal exchanges only by six percentage points.
That seems counterintuitive, as people in federal exchanges are the ones at risk of losing coverage, not people with state-based exchanges. But in this case, geography doesn’t explain everything. The poll also found people living in states with state-based exchanges lean further to the left than people in states with federal exchanges. This doesn’t come as a big surprise, as states friendlier to Obamacare–New York, Massachusetts and California, for example – also lean left on political and social issues.
Justin Nisly, press secretary for left-leaning nonprofit Enroll America, said his organization sees widespread necessity for subsidies. “The tax credits provided by the Affordable Care Act have made health insurance – and the peace of mind that comes with it – a reality for millions of Americans, so it’s not surprising that Americans want to see them continue,” Nisly wrote in an email.
Ed Haislmaier, senior research fellow at conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, said the poll results speak more to the average citizen’s graciousness than good policy sense.
“Most people are fair, so they’re going to say yes,” Haislmaier said. “I don’t think this tells you anything, really, other than that the American people have a basic sense of fairness.”
Haislmaier said the debate over subsidies distracts from the real issue – that the ACA rendered coverage unaffordable, and attempted to fix the problem with subsidies. “We need something that replaces the unfairness of the existing system,” he said, “not creates new unfairness.”
Support for subsidies reaches across party lines: In the 2014 general elections, 39 percent of poll respondents voted Democrat, while 37 percent voted for Republican candidates. Of those who said that Congress should devise a plan to underwrite healthcare if King v. Burwell rules against subsidies, 52 percent self-identified as conservatives. This suggests that Republicans should face popular backlash if King v. Burwell nullifies subsidies – right at a time when the party is marshaling support to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
The poll was conducted from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9, on 1,781 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.