Why the Political Heat on the ACA Is Cooling

This was published as a Wall Street Journal Think Tank column on July 8, 2014.

Several indicators suggest that the political waters may be calming for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This doesn’t guarantee that the law will achieve its goals and be judged a success. It means that the law stands a better chance of being implemented free of constant political turmoil–and will have a better shot at success.


*Public support for the ACA fell after the Web site debacle last fall, but while overall opinion toward the law continues to tilt negative, the falloff in the polls has stopped, according to the June Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll.

*After the administration rapidly repaired the Web site, the ACA exceeded the widely cited 7 million target for the first open-enrollment season, which had become a political litmus test for the law. And with no similarly big controversy, the ACA has become a far less juicy, and less prominent, media story.

*Some Republicans seem to be shifting their midterm strategy to focus less on the ACA and more on other issues they have with the president and the direction of the country.

*More people say that they are getting their information on the law from personal experience and from the experiences of family and friends, and fewer say that they are getting it from the news media, which they also say focuses mostly on politics and not what the law means for them. Increasingly, public perception of the law is about people’s experiences–whether good or bad–rather than ideology and partisan politics.

*The share of people who say the law is having a positive effect on them is inching up, though it is still outweighed by the share who say it affects them negatively.

When the ACA was being lambasted by Republicans during the 2012 presidential primaries, its standing fell. When the rollout made headlines last fall, it fell again. But when the ACA is not in the news its standing improves.

Challenges in implementation will continue, as will disputes about the merits of the law. But the administration’s repair of HealthCare.gov and strong first-season enrollment has stilled the waters somewhat, providing a breather for implementation and possibly also reducing the political heat as the midterms approach.

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