Ted Cruz's nightmare: Obamacare helps people!

A new report shows most uninsured Americans will pay premiums of under $100 a month -- so Cruz says repeal it

By Joan Walsh

Published September 17, 2013 2:47PM (EDT)

  (AP/Justin Hayworth)
(AP/Justin Hayworth)

This post has been corrected (see below)

Sen. Ted Cruz and his Heritage Foundation friends are still pushing plans to use either the continuing resolution or the debt ceiling battle to defund Obamacare, and the motivation behind their madness keeps getting clearer: If they don’t repeal it, and fast, Americans are going to wind up liking it.

Already key provisions of the law are popular with voters, even though polls still show more disapprove of the law than approve overall. But Americans like being able to keep their adult children on their plan until they turn 26, they’re happy people with preexisting conditions will be able to get coverage, and they like the preventive care benefits they’re now guaranteed, many without co-pays, by their insurance plans.

Now comes news from the Department of Health and Human Services that roughly half of uninsured Americans will pay less than $100 a month for their insurance, thanks to competitive state exchanges, federal subsidies and Medicaid expansion. A new HHS study finds 6.4 million Americans will pay under $100 a month on the new state-level exchanges, once they’re rolled out, thanks to lower costs as well as federal subsidies.

It should be noted that not every state has set up exchanges yet, so the report extrapolated from federal income data and the cost of plans in the states that have established exchanges.

And while Heritage and groups like FreedomWorks have focused on Obamacare’s alleged “burden” on young adults – FreedomWorks has a farcical campaign encouraging them to burn their nonexistent “Obamacare cards,” like another generation burned their draft cards – young people will get the most help under the new plan. In fact, Americans aged 18-34 make up 36 percent of those who get subsidies -- the largest share of those who will get help under the new plan.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that almost half of the uninsured Americans who will have to buy their own plans through the exchanges will be eligible for federal subsidies. Americans will be eligible for gradually declining subsidies if they make up to 400 percent of the poverty level, which is over $90,000 for a family of four.

The new HHS report, by the way, only looks at Americans who will be buying their own insurance. When you add in those who will be newly covered by the expanded Medicaid program – in states whose governors aren’t too boneheaded to accept expansion – that’s another 12.4 million Americans who will pay less than $100 a month for insurance (many of the Medicaid-eligible will pay nothing at all).

So despite Republican claims of soaring insurance costs and “sticker shock” once Americans see their bills under Obamacare, the truth is most of the uninsured will get affordable plans. Oh, and as to fear-mongering about people who already have insurance seeing their rates rise? The Rand Corp. studied that question and found premiums at small companies  – the most likely to be affected by Obamacare regulations – are coming down. Workers at firms with fewer than 100 employees will pay almost 6 percent less in 2016 than if the law hadn’t passed.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. Republicans, who normally aren’t fans of labor unions, are crowing about the AFL-CIO resolution calling Obamacare implementation “highly disruptive” to the insurance security of unionized workers, who may find employers anxious to drop coverage and get their employees insured in the subsidized exchange marketplace instead. There are all kinds of legislative fixes needed to the massive bill, but since the GOP is committed to repealing it, not fixing it, they won’t be made any time soon.

But Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint aren’t worried about the happiness of labor leaders. They’re worried that when Americans understand the new law, they’ll be happy with it.

An earlier version of this post attributed the "burn your Obamacare card" campaign to Heritage, but it's a FreedomWorks project. I regret the error.)

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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