Public Support for Expanding Obamacare Increased Amid GOP Efforts to Repeal Law

Polling shows rising popularity as the Trump administration takes actions that could destabilize the exchanges

House Speaker Paul Ryan, left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speak to the media in February outside the White House after meeting with Trump. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Public support to expand the Affordable Care Act has increased this year amid efforts by congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the 2010 law, a sign of rising popularity as the Trump administration takes action that could further destabilize the Obamacare exchanges.

Between March and October, there was an 8-point swing in voters backing an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, according to Morning Consult/Politico polling. The nationwide surveys, which each have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, asked voters whether Obamacare should be expanded, kept as is, repealed in part or repealed completely.

The figures come as President Donald Trump takes steps that would allow consumers to purchase noncompliant plans off the Obamacare exchanges, in addition to ending the cost-sharing reduction payments that help insurers subsidize out-of-pocket costs for low-income individuals. The rise in support for expanding Obamacare also coincides with a bipartisan Senate push to shore up the exchanges, an effort that isn’t supported by Trump and is opposed by conservative hardliners on Capitol Hill.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is leading the bipartisan ACA stabilization push in the Senate, declined to comment for this story.

In a March 16-19 survey, conducted about a week after House Republicans introduced legislation designed to overhaul the ACA, 23 percent of respondents said Obamacare should be expanded. Three months later that percentage rose to 29 percent, according to a June 22-24 poll. And the figure climbed to 31 percent in an Oct. 19-23 survey.

The trend correlates to intense public attention to the war over Obamacare on Capitol Hill, and reflects the unpopularity of GOP proposals to replace the health care law, according to Ashley Kirzinger, a senior survey analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“People are becoming more knowledgeable and more aware of the different components of the ACA, and therefore that could be leading to increased favorability among Democrats and independents,” Kirzinger said in a phone interview Thursday.

The swing in favor of expanding Obamacare has been largest among Democrats, increasing from 42 percent in March to 54 percent in October. Among independents, there was a 9-point jump during the same time period, from 17 percent to 26 percent.

At the same time, there was an 8-point dip in support for repealing Obamacare, either in part or completely, among independents (54 percent to 46 percent) and Democrats (24 percent to 20 percent). Support for repealing Obamacare among GOP voters has held steady — 77 percent in March and 78 percent in October. Among all voters, support for repealing the ACA fell from 52 percent to 47 percent.

“I think you’re seeing the public react to the very poorly conceived Republican policy proposals,” Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), a senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a Thursday interview at the Capitol.

Growing support to expand the ACA also corresponds with recent debate among Democratic officials about what the party’s next steps should be on health care.

Several health care proposals to expand on the ACA’s goal of universal coverage have been introduced in Congress in recent months. “Medicare for all” legislation, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in September, has garnered the most attention. The measure has 16 cosponsors, all Democrats, including several who are considered potential 2020 presidential contenders.

A 49-percent plurality of voters said they support a single-payer health system, in which all Americans would get coverage through a single government plan, according to a Sept. 14-17 poll.