There is good reason former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is embracing Obamacare while others in both parties are running away from it.
Her success so far – including presidential primary victories in South Carolina and a half dozen other southern states – have hinged on strong support from African American and Hispanic voters. Clinton on Super Tuesday picked up two-thirds or more of the black vote in states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was winning the white vote and younger Americans.
Even though critics of the Affordable Care Act claim it is killing jobs and driving up insurance premiums and co-payments, blacks and Hispanics have emerged as the biggest winners under President Obama’s signature program.
The administration announced on Thursday that about 20 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through Obamacare since 2010. Most of them have purchased government subsidized insurance on state or federal exchanges or through expanded Medicaid coverage.
During that period, the uninsured rate has dropped by more than 50 percent among African Americans and by more than 25 percent among Hispanics, according to the government’s figures.
That means that about three million African-Americans and four million Hispanic adults have gained health care coverage for the first time in recent years.
“We have seen progress in the last six years that the country has sought for generations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement. “Americans with insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace or through their employers have benefited from better coverage and a reduction in the growth in health care costs.”
The new report also showed that 6.1 million uninsured young adults ages 19 to 25 obtained health insurance coverage because of the ACA. This was an especially important development, according to officials, because the program’s long-term success depends in part upon attracting younger, healthier people to leaven the overall cost of coverage. These coverage gains for young people began in 2010 because of a provision of the new law that allows children to remain on their parent’s health insurance plans until they turn 26.
Joseph Antos, a health care expert with the American Enterprise Institute, described the sharp decline in the uninsured rate among minorities and young people as “startling” and “good news.”
But he cautioned in an interview Friday that “we can’t be 100 percent certain” of the administration’s new figures because “people have a tendency on the exchanges to stop paying their premiums or never start paying,” and that there is also turnover within the Medicaid program for low-income people.
“I would wait until the Census Bureau puts out its numbers in August or September to see what actually happened,” he added. “One of the problems with these statistics from the exchanges is that they are frankly guesswork when it comes to Medicaid. It’s really very difficult to come up with a number that you can take to the bank.”
Obama announced the new figures yesterday during an appearance in Milwaukee to promote the Affordable Care Act. During a speech, Obama called out Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates for seeking the repeal of the 2010 law without advancing a serious replacement plan.
“Congressional Republicans have tried and failed to repeal or undermine it about 60 times,” he said. “They’ve told you what they’d replace it with about zero times. They sure won’t tell you what would happen if they actually did repeal it. If they got their way, 20 million people would have their insurance taken away from them.”
Clinton has echoed this theme in defending Obamacare on the Democratic presidential campaign trail. Besides her broadsides against Donald Trump and other GOP candidates, she has repeatedly attacked Sanders for his single-payer “Medicare for all” proposal that she says would undercut Obamacare and badly set back progress in health care.
Clinton is promising to build on Obamacare by using tax credits and other measures to lower costs that still prevent many Americans from obtaining health care coverage. The former New York senator and first lady also favors imposing a cap on out-of-pocket drug costs and seek faster Food and Drug Administration approval of generic drugs.
“I don't want us to start over again,” Clinton said recently in opposing Sander’s single-payer proposal. “I think that would be a great mistake, to once again plunge our country into a contentious debate about whether we should have and what kind of system we should have for health care.”
Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist, denies that he is trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which he helped enact. He says that even with Obamacare, there are still tens of millions of Americans who remain uninsured and who deserve coverage under a national health care plan similar to those in Canada and Europe.
“Every major country on earth, whether it's the U.K., whether it's France, whether it's Canada, has managed to provide health care to all people as a right, and they are spending significantly less per capita on health care than we are,” Sanders said. “So I do not accept the belief that the United States of America can't do that.”