What Heidi Heitkamp Isn’t Talking About: Obamacare Didn’t Improve the Uninsured Problem and It Didn’t Make Insurance Cheaper


N.D. Senator Heidi Heitkamp speaks during a question-and-anbswer session Wednesday afternoon with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

With early voting beginning next month we are fast approaching the zenith in North Dakota’s nationally important U.S. Senate race (or the nadir, depending on how cynical you are).

In the home stretch Democrats have turned to a robust defense of Obamacare as a life preserver for their incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp who is trailing in the publicly available polling. They are lambasting Republicans for attempting to repeal that partisan policy over the years, and for backing a lawsuit challenging its legality (in which the State of North Dakota is a plaintiff thanks to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem).

Their argument is that if Republicans get their way and Obamacare is ended as policy, be it through legislative repeal or judicial ruling, thousands of North Dakotans would lose health insurance because there would no longer be a mandate that pre-existing conditions be covered.

Republicans, including Congressman Kevin Cramer, are on the record saying they’d replace Obamacare with policy that requires pre-existing condition coverage, but setting that aside for a moment we should ask a question about the foundation of the Democratic argument.

Did Obamacare really improve the uninsured problem in North Dakota?

Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread says no. In fact, according to data released by Godfread today at a press conference, the rate of uninsured North Dakotans has remained mostly unchanged under Obamacare. This graphic, distributed by the North Dakota Republican Party, tells the story:

If Obamacare didn’t improve the uninsured situation in North Dakota, then what is it exactly that Democrats are arguing?

Keep in mind that most North Dakotans – 55 percent, in fact – are covered by employer insurance policies and another 29 percent get coverage from government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Repealing Obamacare, in one way or another, would have little impact on those people in terms of things like pre-existing conditions. As for the rest of the markets, it seems there is biparitsan agreement that pre-existing conditions should be covered.

But one thing which needs to be addressed – the thing Democrats said the Affordable Care Act would address – is the rapidly growing cost of insurance. Because that’s still a problem as this graphic from the NDGOP shows:

Remember that the original impetus for Obamacare was to address health insurance costs. The official name of the policy was literally the Affordable Care Act! That problem still isn’t fixed. Premiums in North Dakota have gone up 44 percent since Obamcare was enacted.

Are any of you making 44 percent more per year since then? Because I know I’m not.

But let’s not pretend like this furor Democrats are manufacturing over Republican efforts to replace Obamacare is driven by real concern over health insurance outcomes. If that was the case they wouldn’t be cranking up their noise machine in the final weeks of a key Senate race.

This is about partisan politics, pure and simple. Cramer is a threat, and this issue must have polled well for the Heitkamp campaign.