One of the main reasons Republicans oppose Obamacare has largely flown under the public’s radar — until now. Here’s the key to understanding the GOP’s typically mean-spirited position: applications for insurance under the Affordable Care Act will also allow people to register to vote. Aha! The picture jumps into focus. Those in our population who are most anxious to sign up for healthcare coverage are the same people who the GOP has worked diligently, in state after state, to disenfranchise. The Affordable Care Act could lay waste to all that conservative effort.
Voters’ Rights groups have been keenly aware of this emerging issue, which is likely to be fought out in court. It became obvious to careful watchers in March, when a draft of the insurance application became public, that it would include the opportunity to register to vote. It was also obvious to those defending the right to vote that this provision is mandated by federal law — specifically by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. That law, more popularly known as the “Motor Voter Act”, specified that states had to offer voter registration in government offices. That’s why most states currently offer the option to register to everyone who gets a driver’s license.
The draft application got an immediate response from Congressman Charles W. Boustany,(R-Louisiana). As chairman of the House Committee On Ways And Means Subcommittee On Oversight (got that?), Boustany wrote a letter of protest to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. His objection was supposedly that applicants would be confused and think that voter registration was somehow linked to getting subsidies for their health insurance. Right … because Republicans have been so-o-o concerned that people get all the subsidies to which they are entitled.
California eagerly embraced the provision in May, becoming the first state to designate its healthcare exchange as a voter registration agency. New York and Vermont soon followed, while Connecticut and Maryland recently announced plans to do the same.
The difficulty, of course, comes from less progressive states. Their argument is over whether the exchanges are really government agencies, to which the 1993 law applies. Lisa Danetz, of the advocacy group Demos, is confident that it does. She says:
However it’s organized, the actions of the exchanges are closely intertwined and are essentially the actions of the state … In the long run, they’re going to be doing it. It’s what the law requires.
Progressive groups have raised the concern that the administration might back down on the issue in the face of a strong conservative backlash. However, talkingpointsmemo.com reported on Tuesday that they had received confirmation from a White House spokesman that the administration hasn’t changed its position; the marketplaces fall under the 1993 law and voter registration is “still the plan”.
Nevertheless, residents need to keep a watchful eye on the actions of their own states. Many of them have adopted the strategy of keeping mum and hoping that a lack of action will escape the eye — and the enforcement power — of the federal government.