Pence’s Obamacare stance mirrors Hoosiers’ views

  • Comments
  • Print

More than a few readers of The Dose have accused Gov. Mike Pence of playing politics with his decisions not to embrace Obamacare in Indiana.

The theory is that Pence has his eye on the 2016 presidential contest and wants to spiff up his bona fides with the Tea Party and other hardline conservatives. What better way to fire up the conservative base than blowing off Obamacare—even if it hurts Hoosiers.

I don’t subscribe to this theory, because Pence’s objections to Obamacare seem to come from his honestly held conservative principles (like them or hate them, they’ve been quite consistent for a long time), not in cold political calculation.

But to the extent Pence is playing politics, it looks like his focus local, not national.

I say this because a new statewide survey by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs shows that Hoosiers are firmly behind Pence on his stance against Obamacare.

On the whole, the 605 Hoosiers interviewed don’t like the Affordable Care Act, a slight majority would like to see it repealed, and a large majority even support Pence’s handling of the question of expanding Medicaid.

Pence has said Indiana will not expand Medicaid coverage to more Hoosiers unless it can do so using a version of the Healthy Indiana Plan. The Ball State survey found that 47 percent of Hoosiers support an expansion via HIP and 15 percent favor no expansion at all.

That’s 62 percent who do not favor an expansion of traditional Medicaid—nearly twice as many as the 32 percent that do support the expansion of traditional Medicaid.

That has to be disheartening to groups like Cover Indiana, which brought 300 people to the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday to urge Pence and state Legislators to expand coverage. They noted that as many as 350,000 Hoosiers could be eligible for Medicaid, if Indiana expanded it as the Affordable Care Act called for—although estimates of the number of Hoosiers that would actually sign up for Medicaid are running at about half that total.

“Hoosiers are demanding elected officials commit to addressing the coverage gap,” read a statement issued by the group.

Except they’re not, as the Ball State poll shows. In fact, Hoosiers have become much more opposed to the Affordable Care Act over the past year. Fifty-three percent view the law unfavorably, compared with 43 percent that view it favorably.

A year ago, Hoosiers held slightly more favorable views of the law than unfavorable, with 44 percent in favor and 42 percent against.

But since then, “very unfavorable” views shot up to 36 percent and another 17 percent view the law in a “mostly unfavorable” way. Just 13 percent of Hoosiers view Obamacare “very favorably.” And that even though the survey was conducted between Oct. 8 and Oct. 21–when much of the national news was still focused on the government shutdown, not the meltdown.

When asked whether Obamacare should be repealed or fully implemented, 51 percent of Hoosiers chose repeal, compared with 41 percent who want full implementation. Since the Ball State poll has a margin of error of 4.8 percent, it's possible that less than a majority of Hoosiers actually support repeal.

This local antipathy toward the law is being matched nationally. The Affordable Care Act has never been popular, but neither has it been terribly unpopular. Now, however, there is mounting evidence that Americans are turning against it.

The six polls averaged by RealClear Politics show 57 percent of Americans oppose the law, compared with 39 percent who support it. That 18-point gap was only half as wide a month ago–which is the time the Ball State survey concluded.

And, for what it’s worth, Pence enjoyed an overall approval rating in the Ball State poll of 55 percent. President Obama’s approval, meanwhile, has been hammered by the botched rollout of the Obamacare exchanges, tumbling to 40 percent in the latest RealClear Politics average.

Whether Pence’s health care stances remain popular, as the consequences of his decisions become tangible for thousands of Hoosiers, remains to be seen.

As I recently reported, Pence’s policies could end up costing Indiana $1.2 billion annually in federal subsidies for expanding both Medicaid and private health insurance coverage. Even conservative opponents of Obamacare question Pence’s support of a lawsuit that would end Obamacare’s tax subsidies to help Hoosiers by individual health insurance.

But for now, Pence and the Hoosier populace are in lock-step: neither one of them likes Obamacare. So don’t expect Pence to change his tune any time soon.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.