While Republicans and their media echo chamber have been quick to pronounce the Affordable Care Act "dead on arrival" and its troubled launch "Obama's Katrina," polling suggests the American people have reached no such conclusion. A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted last weekend found that 41 percent of respondents approve of the ACA, little changed from a month before. Meanwhile, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found that less than two in five support the law's repeal, "virtually unchanged since last summer."
But lost in the flurry of polls is a helpful bit of context to another major health care program that cost Washington hundreds of billions of dollars and impacted over 40 million people. As it turns out, the numbers show that President Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, a program that now enjoys 90 percent approval from America's seniors, was far more unpopular during its launch than Obama's Affordable Care Act is now.
The charts from the Kaiser Family Foundation above tell the tale. Since its passage in March 2010, support for and opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been largely unchanged. But KFF's polling of seniors' views of the Bush Medicare drug plan showed it consistently more unpopular than the ACA, with disapproval spiking during its launch in the fall of 2005. And that dismal performance was for a program for which enrollment was voluntary and the coverage fully paid by Uncle Sam.
The headlines in late 2005 and early 2006 explain why. The launch of the enrollment period for 43 million seniors to use their new drug benefit to purchase prescription coverage from private insurers was met with stories like "Medicare prescription drug plan stump seniors" (USA Today), "Officials' pitch for drug plan meets skeptics" (New York Times), "Medicare drug plan still not generating much enthusiasm" and "majority of Americans say drug plan is not working" (Gallup). As Sarah Kliff explained in June, "Part D was less popular than Obamacare when it launched":