Obamacare's problems aren't likely to swing the presidential election, but they're pumping some last-minute fuel into Donald Trump's campaign while putting Hillary Clinton on the defensive.
"Obamacare never had a chance, it's a catastrophe," Trump told a Miami audience Wednesday. "Yet Hillary Clinton wants to double down on Obamacare, making it more expensive."
A relatively small number of voters will experience the rate hikes plaguing the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces, which opened for 2017 enrollment Tuesday. Most people still get their coverage through their workplaces or Medicare, and most marketplace consumers will receive subsidies to blunt the cost of their coverage.
Yet the marketplace problems confirm some long-standing Republican predictions of doom about the healthcare law and dovetail with Trump's message that he's the candidate looking out for regular Americans.
Obamacare's problems are likely to be an extra motivator for the Republican and working-class voters who have embraced Trump and his Washington outsider message and who distrust Clinton. Even if their own pocketbooks aren't being hurt, the price increases symbolize for them everything they don't like about Democrats' approach to policy and governing.
"It's the tens of thousands of people who felt all along their priorities were second-place for the man elected president," said John Davis, a political strategist in Raleigh, N.C. "That's what Obamacare represents."
Enrollment began Tuesday in the new insurance marketplaces, where premiums are spiking an average of 22 percent and fewer plans are available than last year.
The increases are actually smaller than average in some of the presidential swing states, including Florida, Nevada and Virginia. And they're negligible — just 2 percent — in New Hampshire and Ohio.
But they're especially large in a handful of tossup states, including Arizona, North Carolina and Iowa, where insurers are raising prices an average of 40 percent or more. In Arizona, the average mid-level silver plan will cost 116 percent more next year. There are also hefty double-digit rate hikes in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, two states where Clinton has a strong edge but still needs to ensure enough of her voters turn out on Election Day.
While Clinton's outlook for Nov. 8 is still better than Trump's, the Republican nominee has been steadily gaining ground since the FBI announced it has reopened its investigation of Clinton's emails while secretary of state. The Obamacare woes might not be Trump's golden ticket into the White House, but they're at least helping him keep it in view.
"If you combine the bad news about Obamacare with the FBI investigation, it's a pretty toxic combination that is having a negative effect on the Clinton campaign across the country," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
While Trump talked little about the healthcare law during most of the campaign season, he's been hitting Clinton hard over the issue since the plan offerings were made public last week. Clinton has recently said much less about the law on the campaign trail, although she has consistently pledged support for it while suggesting some improvements.
"I am going to defend President Obama's legacy," Clinton said at an African-American church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., over the weekend. "Especially the Affordable Care Act."
Yet some political experts warn against overstating the effects of the Obamacare woes on this year's political contests.
Polls have shown that when asked about healthcare topics, voters are more concerned about drug prices than repealing the Affordable Care Act. Reliable Republican voters have opposed the healthcare law for a long time. And it's not clear whether premium increases will be a strong motivating factor for swing voters, if they don't personally feel the effects.
"Will it make Iowa more for Trump?" said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University. "I can't give you a solid answer."
Goldford said the people who think the Affordable Care Act symbolizes what's wrong with government are already voting for Trump. And so few Iowans are enrolled in the state's marketplace — fewer than 50,000 — that there's no good data on how they will vote.
What's more certain is that Obamacare and its struggles are likely to provide extra motivation for voters who dislike Obama, and Clinton as well, to turn out next Tuesday.
"It steels their determination to vote against Hillary Clinton," Davis said.