WASHINGTON — A premier Republican pollster is warning his party’s presidential hopefuls that they’ll need to offer a health care plan in the 2016 election because Americans overwhelmingly oppose returning to the pre-Obamacare status quo.
“Only 18 percent of Americans want to go back to the system we had before, because they don’t want to go back to some of the problems we had with health insurance before,” Whit Ayres, who has advised many prominent Republicans including potential presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), told reporters at a Washington breakfast hosted Tuesday by the Christian Science Monitor. “And the smart Republicans in this area get that.”
The figure was based on polling as of November 2014 by his firm North Star Opinion Research. The good news for Republicans is that Obamacare remains unpopular overall — the poll found that Americans prefer to repeal rather than to keep Obamacare as it is by a margin of 54 to 44 percent.
Ayers was confident that the eventual Republican presidential nominee “will have a replacement for Obamacare” that will keep some aspects of Obamacare while ditching some unpopular aspects like the individual mandate.
“What you’re going to see is a well-crafted Republican alternative that will take some of those aspects of Obamacare but will ameliorate some of the more negative aspects of it, which have caused it still to have more people who oppose it than support it. And the reason, I think, is the mandate,” he said.
Crafting an Obamacare alternative is easier said than done, as evidenced by the fact that the GOP has failed to unify behind a proposal in the five years since the law was enacted, amid struggles to bridge conservative ideological priorities with the tough economic realities of health policy. If the experience of the 2012 election is any indication, it will be a slog for Republicans in 2016, perhaps more so now that upwards of 16 million Americans have gained health coverage since Obamacare passed, according to government figures.
In the 2012 election Mitt Romney campaigned on a platform of repealing the health care law but did not offer a comprehensive replacement plan. He proposed to instead let states come up with their own ideas while floating incremental federal reforms like protecting people from losing their insurance over a preexisting condition as long as they maintain continuous coverage. His replacement ideas gained little traction among congressional Republicans.
One wild card is the looming Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell that could greatly damage Obamacare and health care markets by stripping insurance tax subsidies from million of Americans. If the justices rule against the Obama administration, it could elevate the issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.