PolitiFact: Popularity of Obamacare key varies with who asks

While President Donald Trump was overseas, he urged on congressional Republicans who were forging ahead with their tax plans, and suggested including an end to the “individual mandate” in Obamacare.

We wondered if that provision, the health care law’s requirement that most people have coverage, is “highly unpopular,” as he said.

Polling shows it is the least popular of the Affordable Care Act’s changes, but how people feel about it depends on how you frame the question.

When asked simply if they like or don’t like the mandate, as many as two-thirds of the people say they don’t. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 63 percent had an unfavorable opinion in November 2016. An Associated Press/NORC poll in January 2017 came back with 36 percent in favor, 13 percent who didn’t care one way or the other, and 50 percent who opposed it.

Public opinion became more complicated around the time Republicans started voting on bills to repeal and replace Obamacare.

In March 2017, CNN/ORC gave respondents a list of options and asked if they “favor or oppose including that policy in a replacement bill.” Half, 50 percent, said the requirement to obtain coverage should be kept and about half, 48 percent, said it should be ditched.

The Kaiser tracking poll in October 2017 took a different approach to the same topic, and got results similar to CNN/ORC.

Kaiser set up the question this way: “The Trump administration has made a number of changes related to the health insurance marketplaces. Do you approve or disapprove of the following actions made by the Trump administration?”

Kaiser’s summary said, “the federal government may stop enforcing the requirement that all individuals have insurance or pay a fine.”

Half, 50 percent, of the people said they approved of that, while 47 percent said they didn’t. Again, a split decision.

An earlier Kaiser tracking poll triggered higher levels of support for enforcing the mandate. In August 2017, pollsters framed the issue in terms of “President Trump taking actions to make the law (Obamacare) fail.”

Put that way, only one-third, 31 percent, said they wanted Trump to stop enforcing the mandate, and two-thirds said it should be enforced.

Broadly speaking, in the context of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, most polls show that about half of the public opposes the mandate and about half supports it.

Obamacare has many moving parts that interact with each other. The individual mandate has a particularly strong tie to the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The rationale is that if the government is going to force insurance companies to cover everyone, then it must deliver a big insurance pool with a lot of healthy people in it.

The pre-existing conditions protection is popular. In the November 2016 Kaiser poll, nearly 70 percent of the public supported that piece of the puzzle. But only 35 percent liked its evil twin, the individual mandate.

In 2014, the Kaiser Family Foundation probed what people know about the mandate and found that opinions were “malleable.”

“When people were told that most people already fulfill the mandate with coverage they get through an employer or government plan, or that people would not have to pay the fine if buying insurance would take up too large a share of their income, support increased to 6 in 10,” said Liz Hamel, director of Kaiser’s public opinion research team.

Our ruling

Public opinion about the individual mandate is not a simple black-and-white choice. As a leading expert explained, people might not love it, but they are willing to live with it.

We rate this claim Half True.

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