It might be a bittersweet victory for Republican leaders if the Supreme Court rules the way their party wants it to in a huge legal challenge to Obamacare that threatens financial aid to people in two-thirds of the United States, a new poll suggests.
The survey, commissioned by a major labor union that supports Obamacare, shows that even as the Affordable Care Act continues to be viewed unfavorably by many people, a majority of them would strongly disapprove of eliminating federal tax credits that help more than 6 million HealthCare.gov customers pay their insurance premiums.
And the Service Employees International Union survey released Monday also reveals that a strong majority of registered voters likely to vote in next year's presidential and congressional elections would view Republicans less favorably if they did nothing to replace those billions of dollars of lost subsidies, and used such a Supreme Court decision as leverage to completely repeal Obamacare.
The SEIU-sponsored poll of 800 people comes two days before the high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case known as King v. Burwell, which challenges the legality of Obamacare subsidies in at least 34 states served by the federal insurance exchange.
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Plaintiffs claim that aid can only be given to customers of insurance marketplaces run by individual states because of the way the ACA is written.
The survey also comes days after Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, suffered a major embarrassment when he was unable to convince his own GOP membership to deliver enough votes to continue temporary funding of the Department of Homeland Security. Boehner lost a vote Friday night on that measure, and only later was able to secure the funding with the help of congressional Democrats.
Boehner's flop reinforced the view that, even as some Republicans suggest that Congress could at least temporarily continue the subsidies for HealthCare.gov customers if the Supreme Court eliminates them, it will be difficult at best to wrangle enough GOP representatives to support that effort.
In the past week, some Republican leaders have become increasingly concerned their party will be blamed for the loss of the financial aid.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, co-authored a Washington Post op-ed Sunday entitled "We have a plan for fixing health care," which said if the HealthCare.gov subsidies are ruled illegal, "We would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period."
"It would be unfair to allow families to lose their coverage, particularly in the middle of the year," Hatch's op-ed said.
But Hatch's plan was short on details. And it's not clear that any proposal of his would survive a vote in Congress controlled by his party.
Even as Hatch and other leaders propose funding the subsidies temporarily, other Republicans oppose that idea, and argue that President Barack Obama should bear the blame for the loss of subsidies because he issued them to HealthCare.gov customers without the legal authority to do so.
"We have seen the difficulty that they have had in funding the Department of Homeland Security. The idea that they could agree on a way to fund the tax credits challenges credulity," Geoffrey Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, the survey firm that conducted the poll for SEIU.
King v. Burwell "creates an enormous amount of vulnerability for Republican elected officials and Republican congressional leaders to the extent they are seen as attacking and wanting to remove" the subsidies, said Garin.
"Either way, there is nothing but trouble for Republicans in this case," he said. "They are on the wrong side of public opinion."
The survey by Garin's firm is just the latest to show that while much of the public tends to see Obamacare as a whole in a negative light, individual elements of the ACA continue to be popular with the public.
SEIU's international executive vice president, Kirk Adams, whose union's membership includes more than 1 million health-care workers, on Monday argued that after two seasons of enrollment in Obamacare insurance, "the ACA is sort of embedded in this health-care system."
Thirty-six percent of the poll's respondents said they were Democrats, and 32 percent identified themselves as Republicans. The balance were either independent or "not sure" of their affiliation.
The poll found that 43 percent of respondents have an unfavorable view of Obamacare, with 32 percent of them having a "very unfavorable" view. A total of 36 percent of respondents viewed the ACA favorably, just 21 percent of them very favorably, according to the poll, which was conducted via landline and cellphones, and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Just under half of the respondents, 49 percent want Congress to either repeal Obamacare completely or make major changes to the law. A total of 45 percent want to see the law remain as is, or undergo only slight changes, the poll revealed.
However, opinions change when people were asked how they felt about the Obamacare subsidies, which help people earning between one and four times the federal poverty level—or $11,670 to $46,680—pay the premiums for plans sold through Obamacare exchanges.
A total of 61 percent of respondents were in favor of those subsidies, the poll found. Even a strong plurality of Republicans were in favor of the subsidies, with 49 supporting them compared to 22 percent against them.
There was even stronger support for the idea of having the subsidies be available in all 50 states. A total of 71 percent want that financial aid to be given to Obamacare customers across the nation, the poll found. And 63 percent objected to the idea of limiting those subsidies only to states served by Obamacare exchanges run by individual states, according to the survey.
Respondents had strongly negative views when asked about two leading schools of thought among Republicans in Congress.
One question asked respondents how they viewed Republican leaders who want the Supreme Court to take away the HealthCare.gov tax credits, and that such a ruling would help them repeal Obamacare completely. A total of 55 percent said they made them "less favorable" to the GOP leaders, while just 27 percent said it made them "more favorable" to those leaders.
Another question asked how people viewed Republicans who both want the HealthCare.gov subsidies repealed and have said they will not take any action to replace them. A total of 59 percent of respondents said that made them less favorable to Republicans, while 21 percent said it made them view the GOP leaders more favorably.
The survey also found that a slight majority of people, 51 percent, said they would believe that a Supreme Court decision tossing out the subsidies was based more on politics instead of the law if the justices voting for that action were the five appointed by Republican presidents. Just 33 percent said they would believe the decision was based more on the law.