Democrats might want to tamp down their Obamacare celebration.
For all the jubilation over 7.1 million people joining the insurance exchanges, the politics surrounding the central issue of the 2014 midterms remains unchanged, according to Republican and Democratic insiders.
Obamacare is still more an albatross than a boon for vulnerable Democrats looking to maintain their distance from a White House that has enjoyed precious little good news of late.
And though President Obama basked in exceeding an enrollment goal that once appeared out of reach, Democratic candidates could still get burned if they put too much stock in those figures.
“It helps stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the situation on the ground as it relates to the Affordable Care Act,” said a well-connected Democratic pollster. “I don’t think you’re going to see red-state Democrats framing Obamacare as the centerpiece of their re-election campaigns.”
The victory lap for progressives comes with a major asterisk. Data on how many enrollees were uninsured, what percentage are young and how many paid their first month's premium will determine the law's fate.
If the majority of sign-ups were people simply switching insurance plans, as conservatives contend — and early data suggests — then the surge in enrollments is unlikely to keep premiums down.
Early snapshots indicated that roughly one-third of those signing up for new health plans through the marketplaces were previously uninsured.
And polling shows that more people disapprove of the law than support it, raising doubts about how much trumpeting enrollments will shift public opinion.
“The White House is trying to make the exception the news,” said Republican strategist Hogan Gidley, pointing to the many unilateral delays by the White House to mitigate unpopular provisions of the law.
“It’s still going to be the seminal issue,” Gidley said. “But Republicans have to understand they need to run on new ideas, big concepts, what they’re going to do for people.”
The president has hammered Republicans for their repeated attempts to repeal the health law. While the prospect of repeal is a pipe dream with Obama in the Oval Office, the White House faces a number of problems at the heart of the largest overhaul to the health care system since Medicare.
Insurers are openly pointing to premium increases in 2015, which would undercut the president's argument that his administration could deliver quality, affordable health care for a wide swath of Americans.
The question now becomes: How will the surge in sign-ups influence public perception of a law already battered by the terrible rollout of healthcare.gov, a series of delays that prompted charges of executive overreach and the threat of Americans losing their health plans?
The administration argues that the spike in enrollments will provide enough of a foundation to keep costs from spiraling out of control.
They also point to the so-called risk corridors, a measure in the law to compensate insurers for losses if they are hit by higher-than-expected costs. But Republicans counter that the provision is an industry bailout.
Obama, however, is insisting that Americans won’t side with a Republican Party “on the wrong side of history.”
However, some doubt whether that appeal for the history books will have much traction ahead of the midterms.
“If they can’t keep costs down," the Democratic pollster said, "nobody is going to care how many people signed up."