What Happens When Republicans Realize Obamacare Was Written for Them?

A South Carolina man didn’t want Obamacare until he couldn’t pay for his eye treatments.

A Tea-Party supporter protest outside the US Supreme Court on the third day of oral arguements over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. The 26 states challenging the law argue that Affordable Care Act must be completely repealed if the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance -- known as the "individual mandate" -- is found to be unconstitutional. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Photographer: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

Luis Lang, a 49-year-old smoker and diabetic from South Carolina, is going to go blind unless he figures out how to pay for expensive eye treatment.

Lang is a self-employed, uninsured handyman who stopped working due to his poor vision. He’s also a Republican who decided not to purchase Obamacare and prided himself on being able to pay his own medical bills, but also assumed that there would be some kind of government help in the event of an emergency, the Charlotte Observer reported Tuesday. He missed the enrollment period and wouldn’t have qualified for subsidies because, since he’s not working, he makes too little money. But he still makes too much money for Medicaid, which South Carolina did not expand.

“As each day goes by my vision get worst,” Lang, who apologized for grammatical mistakes due to his deteriorating vision, wrote on his GoFund Me page. “And if I do go blind it will take [surgery] to get my vision bac[k] if they can.” Since the Observer story was published Lang has received over $500 in donations, including several from Obamacare supporters chiding him for not signing up for the health care law. (Example: “I really hope that you get your operation soon so that you can go back to work and hopefully understand why the ACA was passed in the first place.”)

Lang’s story is the kind of personal health care anecdote that says something larger about the role the Affordable Care Act plays in people’s political and personal lives. During ACA's first enrollment period, there was a lot of debate over the validity of several Obamacare horror stories: ads featuring men and women who lost their doctors or whose premiums were suddenly unaffordable because of the new law.

But after nearly two years, and one Supreme Court case threatening to gut federal subsidies, a new kind of horror story is emerging: one in which people who are politically opposed to the law see how much it could help them. Instead of conservatives pointing to higher premiums and saying “I told you so,” it’s the left pointing to reports of financially vulnerable people the law was designed to protect.

In a February, for example, The Washington Post interviewed Erin Meredith, a “fifth-generation Republican” from Austin with two children. Meredith lost her insurance after her divorce and discovered that she had a rare medical condition, but her income qualified her for a $132 Obamacare subsidy, bringing her premium down to $89 a month. Like Lang, Meredith prided herself on not relying government assistance. Still, she signed up, and is now worried the Supreme Court will rule against the legality of her subsidy.

“I can still feed my kids and put gas in my car,” Meredith told The Post. “I’m not trying to go to Cancun or carry a Michael Kors bag. I drive a 2009 Mazda, and I’m just trying to make it in my little apartment and not be on government assistance.”

The best example of the conservative-turned-Obamacare-supporter phenomenon is James Webb, known on YouTube as Hot Lead retired. In a video published last month titled “This Tea Party Patriot May Vote For Hillary,” Webb—who said he’s voted for Republicans for 32 years and was a charter member of his local Tea Party Patriots chapter—said that he was thinking of voting for Hillary Clinton because Republicans want to repeal Obamacare. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Webb said, he was able to retire at the age of 50. 


Webb's story was picked up by several left-leaning news sites, including Raw Story, Huffington Post, The Nation, Talking Points Memo, and Wonkette. And even though Webb said less than a week later that he “had a few days to think about it” and he wouldn’t be voting for Clinton, he responded to his critics by saying that he has an income and pays for health insurance—it’s subsidized, but not free. It’s worth noting that the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2014 that Obamacare would reduce the workforce by 1.5 to 2 percent because people would “choose to supply less labor.” In other words, Obamacare makes it easier for people who were unable to leave their jobs to start a business, switch careers, or retire early, to leave their jobs.

The health care law was, in fact, designed to help people in those situations: people like Lang who lack employer insurance but have pre-existing conditions; or who, like Meredith, have low incomes; and people like Webb who want to retire early. 

In the long run, however, these stories will likely do more to convince liberals that they’re right about Obamacare than change the hearts and minds of conservatives. The latest health tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 75 percent of Republicans have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of the health care law (compared to 16 percent of Democrats), and 38 percent think the law has hurt them (compared to only 8 percent of Democrats).

Lang is also unconvinced. He and his wife don’t blame the state for not expanding Medicaid, or themselves for waiting until illness struck to sign up for insurance. According to Helms they “blame President Obama and Congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.” 

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” Mary Lang, Luis’ wife, told the Charlotte Observer. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”