Obamacare: Enrollment numbers may be providing a (small) boost

April 25, 2014, 10:11 AM GMT+0

Better than expected enrollment in new insurance plans has given Obamacare a boost in popular support – but only slightly

American opinions of the Affordable Care Act have appeared set in stone – for the last few months Economist/YouGov Polls has tracked respondents who have many more negative than positive things to say about the law, and more wanting it repealed than not. But the high enrollments announced last week have helped create what is either the beginnings of an improvement in evaluations or a one-week blip upwards in support.

Although nearly half the public still believes the Affordable Care Act is mostly a failure, in this week’s poll more than ever before, 25%, are willing to say it is mostly a success, capping what has been a clearly rising trend line in positive assessment of the law.

Democrats are much more willing to declare the law a success now – this week nearly half (48%) say it is mostly a success this week, up ten points from last week. That change among Democrats has driven the overall improvement in perception. Last week, only 38% of Democrats were willing to say that the law was more a success than a failure. At the same time, there has been little change in the views of Republicans and independents, majorities of whom continue to call the law a failure.

Americans are still seeing rising health care costs: 40% say they are paying more for health care than they were a year ago (Republicans, who have consistently expected negative results from Obamacare, are even more likely to claim their costs have risen in the last year).

There are some adults who added health care coverage this year. Though their numbers are small, that group is younger than average. However, younger adults are still the least likely to say they are currently insured. Hardly anyone 65 and older reports having no insurance coverage now or having no insurance last year: Medicare provides most of that group’s coverage.

Few Republicans report gaining coverage since last year. 86% of Republicans say they have health coverage now; 84% say they had coverage last year. More Democrats and independents say they have added coverage. Democrats reporting coverage rose from 79% who said they were covered last year to 85% today; independents rose from 73% to 78%.

Most Americans have seen little change in the quality of their care, though once again, Republicans and independents are more likely to say the quality of their health care is worsening.

That may not mean that people’s health quality is better—at least not yet. The quality of one’s health is related to age (older adults are much less likely to describe their health as “excellent” than those who are younger). The quality of one’s health is also related to income – the higher your family income, the better your health. However, since insurance coverage rises with age, there is no significant difference in the way those with insurance and those without insurance describe their health.

Support for continuing with the Affordable Care Act remains low, although for the first time since the beginning of October (before the website fiasco) as many people say they would keep or expand the program as say they would repeal it.

Still, four in ten would repeal the law, including 80% of Republicans. 54% of Democrats would expand the law’s coverage.

The (slightly) more positive views of the health care law tracks with the small gain in Americans’ overall views of how things are going in the country overall. This week, just about a third say the country is headed in the right direction. While that figure is dwarfed by the 55% who say the country is on the wrong track, the distribution is better than it has been since last spring. Optimism has clawed its way back from its sharp drop during last fall’s partial government shutdown.