by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico appears genuinely perplexed by U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s unwillingness to attract attention to her decisive vote enacting Obamacare.
The North Carolina dynamic reflects a national problem for the Obama administration in this midterm election: Despite the solid numbers — 8 million enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans, and 6.7 million signed up for Medicaid — they just can’t move the dial on political support for Obamacare.
The state had the third-highest rate of enrollment among states that decided not to set up their own exchange — only Florida and Maine came out ahead of it.
White House allies mobilized against Republican state leaders who had obstructed the law, organizing volunteers, outreach staff and local advocates to help people sign up. The administration sent more than $3 million to fund enrollment assistance workers known as navigators — more money than it sent to most other states. Clinics and health facilities also worked hard to get their uninsured patients covered. The numbers were strong, even though the Republican state leaders would not expand Medicaid, which could have covered up to a half-million more — a decision that Hagan criticizes.
Many people who enrolled in North Carolina and elsewhere in the country report mixed feelings about their new Obamacare health plans or the costs. The individual mandate, and the threat of a penalty, drove many sign-ups. A polling report by PerryUndem, an opinion research firm that specializes in health care, found that 40 percent of people in one focus group say they might not have signed up without the mandate. But neither an unpopular mandate nor worries about the expense are a political advantage. …
… That disconnect is haunting Hagan, who doesn’t go out of the way to tout her vote for Obamacare — what Tillis calls “Kay Hagan’s Obamacare Dodge.” She often keeps her comments focused on a piece of it, the failure of state Republicans, including Tillis, to expand Medicaid. Her campaign website doesn’t feature Obamacare, except for provisions that affect women’s health, and even there she doesn’t link them clearly to the president’s health law.
Hagan was not available for an interview during a reporter’s recent visit here. Her campaign spokeswoman downplayed the controversy over Obamacare, and stressed its more popular benefits.
One suspects Hagan and her re-election team have a better sense than Ms. Haberkorn about the true impact of Obamacare on North Carolina’s 2014 U.S. Senate race.