(Editor's Note: As the end of 2013 approaches, the Washington Examiner is shining a spotlight on its best columns of the year. Today, it's chief political correspondent Byron York writing about Obamacare's sinking poll numbers in the wake of its rollout. This column first ran on Nov. 25 and can be found in its original form here.)
In April, Real Clear Politics' average of polls showed that 47 percent of Americans opposed Obamacare, while 41 percent supported it — a 6-percentage-point edge for opponents of the president's health care law, which at the time was still months away from implementation.
The latest average of polls, less than two months into the law's rollout, shows 57 percent opposing Obamacare, with 38 percent supporting — an enormous 19-point gap between opponents and supporters.
The two numbers explain why Republicans made little progress when they tried to warn Americans about Obamacare. For years, GOP warnings about Obamacare were about something that had not yet arrived. People had not experienced Obamacare, did not have friends who had experienced it and didn't fully understand what it was. Many tuned out the Republican alarms.
Now that has changed. Millions of Americans are unhappy with what they have experienced under Obamacare — canceled policies, higher premiums and sky-high deductibles. They are also much more likely to believe predictions of future problems. They've seen what has already happened and now know it can get worse.
So how can it get worse? So far, Obamacare has upended the individual market for health insurance, which covers about 10 million people. The next step, according to the respected health care analyst Robert Laszewski, will likely come in the small-employer market, meaning businesses with anywhere between two and 50 employees. That covers about 45 million people.
"Obamacare is impacting the small-group insurance market in many of the same ways as the individual health insurance market," Laszewski writes. Under Obamacare, the small employers who offer their workers health coverage will be "required to comply with the same essential benefit mandates, age rating changes, and pre-existing condition reforms the individual market faces. That means essentially all small group policies cannot continue as they are — they have to be discontinued."
When the individual market began to roil, Obamacare's defenders were quick to point out that it was a relatively small part — about five percent — of the total U.S. insurance market. The assurance was that everyone else would either be unaffected by Obamacare or benefit from the new law.
It now looks like that will not be the case. In the small-group market, Laszewski predicts many employers will use a feature in the law that allows them to keep their current plans for about a year. But then: "They will likely increase employee premiums and deductibles to keep the wolf from the door for maybe another year." And after that: They will "hope for a rescue party." Not a particularly encouraging scenario for those 45 million people in the market.
And that is why there is more and more talk about Obamacare's "winners" and "losers." It has become impossible to defend President Obama's promise that his health care scheme would make the system work "better for everybody." It's also impossible to defend his claim that Obamacare would "cut the average family's premium by about $2,500 per year." And now even Americans who receive health coverage through their jobs are growing worried that Obama's if-you-like-your-coverage-you-can-keep-it promise, proven false for millions in the individual market, will prove just as false for them.
So the unavoidable truth is that Obamacare will hurt millions of Americans; the only question is how many. And that has caused some observers to take new note of the law's basic structure. "The redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law," writes the New York Times' John Harwood. "Throughout the process, [the law's authors] knew that some level of redistributing wealth — creating losers as well as winners — was inescapable."
The problem is, President Obama and his Democratic allies neglected to tell the public. And now, when the bad news about Obamacare piles up day after day, none of it sounds like what Obama promised.
It's taking a toll on the president's ratings. In a new CNN survey, just 40 percent said they believe Obama "can manage the government effectively." But much more importantly, it has entirely changed the way people view Obamacare.
In the three and a half years between March 23, 2010, the day Obamacare was signed into law, and Oct. 1, 2013, the day its implementation got under way, millions of voters, no matter what doubts they might have had, thought it best to give Obamacare a chance to work. That's why they didn't respond to the GOP's dire warnings. But now, they've seen what Obamacare can mean in their lives. And they won't be buying any more promises.