WASHINGTON – Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief over what effectively passes as a re-launching of the Obamacare website, with some lawmakers now expressing optimism that the healthcare reform law will fall to their political benefit.
Democratic office-holders like Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, expected to face a tough 2014 re-election campaign, are once again embracing the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans argue the Affordable Care Act remains problematic and unsalvageable for a long list of reasons that extend well beyond a website, citing concerns about issues ranging from security to individuals losing their insurance coverage.
“The American people have been learning about the impact Obamacare will have on individuals and families in the form of higher premiums, disrupted insurance, and lost jobs—more broken promises from the administration,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. “And they’re becoming increasingly aware of the fact Obamacare is broken beyond repair. The only ‘fix’ is full repeal followed by step-by-step, patient-centered reforms that drive down costs and that Americans actually want.”
Rep. Steve Israel, of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, countered that continued GOP attacks prove the party is only concerned with sabotaging the new law while Democrats continue their efforts to fix a broken healthcare system.
“Republicans’ only playbook is to take us back to a system that didn’t work, led hardworking people into bankruptcy and gave insurance companies unchecked power to deny care and drop coverage,” Israel said. “Democrats are going to relentlessly remind Americans that one party wants to fix the Affordable Care Act – and one party wants to repeal the law and put the fix in for insurance companies.”
When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, Democrats and Republicans appear to agree on only one thing – the official Oct. 1 rollout was an unmitigated disaster. Under the law, everyone is required to purchase health insurance, with those unable to afford a policy receiving governmental subsidies. The official website, HealthCare.gov, was supposed to provide consumers with a marketplace to pick and choose coverage.
But the website didn’t work from the beginning. It crashed often, was extremely slow on the occasions it was operational and potential enrollees often got part way through the process before the system ate the information provided.
President Obama ultimately took responsibility for the untold number of “glitches” and vowed to have the website up and running smoothly by Dec. 1. That goal has, for the most part, been met although all problems have not been ironed out – while only about 26,000 people were able to choose a health plan in October about 100,000 people were able to make their way through the system in November.
Regardless, the devastating roll-out carried political consequences and questions remain whether Democrats, with a tenuous hold on the Senate, can recover. A CBS News poll conducted in mid-November showed that just 31 percent of Americans approved of the law, while 61 percent disapproved. The survey further showed that fewer Americans view Mr. Obama as honest and trustworthy and fewer Americans approved of congressional Democrats’ job performance.
But Democrats believe the performance upgrade provides them with an opening. Landrieu was so distressed by the law’s dismal lift-off and its potential impact on her re-election chances that she introduced legislation permitting individuals to keep their health insurance plans even if they don’t meet standards mandated by the law – a proposal unlikely to come up for a vote as a result of opposition from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada.
A mid-November poll conducted by Southern Media & Opinion Research showed Landrieu’s approval rating among Louisiana voters dropping 10 points over a six-month period to 47 percent, most likely because of her vote for the healthcare law. Yet, despite her ongoing concerns – “there should have not been a glitch in the software” she told MSNBC recently – Landrieu said she continues to support Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act, as I said, the bill itself has got very good concepts and, yes, I would support it again,” she told the network.
Sen. Mark Pryor, of Arkansas, another Democrat on shaky ground – a mid-October University of Arkansas poll showed him in a virtual tie with Rep. Tom Cotton, R-(Ark.) – remains unenthusiastic about the prospects of the law serving as an asset in his re-election campaign but it continues to carry his less than whole-hearted support.
“As I’ve said many times throughout this process, I will always work to find responsible solutions to fix problems where they exist,” he said.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida, the Democratic National Committee chairman, predicted on CNN recently that all of the party’s congressional candidates in 2014 will be running on Obamacare despite the troubled unveiling.
“If you’re asking me, are we going to have our candidates run on whether or not insurance companies should be able to drop people or deny them coverage for preexisting conditions, or that seniors should be able to get access to a wellness visit for free without a co-pay or deductible, or whether lifetime and annual caps should be reapplied to insurance policies, like Republicans would do, or whether or not breast cancer survivors like me should be able to get access to mammograms and colonoscopies and other preventative care, or whether or not women should be able to access birth control without. … If you’re asking me whether or not our candidates are going to proudly run on delivering those things to the American people, absolutely,” Wasserman Schultz said on Crossfire.
Obama is stepping up in an effort to provide nervous Democrats with some cover. In remarks delivered on Dec. 3 – two days after the re-launch – the president announced that the website “is working well for the vast majority of users,” further asserting that “the bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future.”
“So we took up the fight because we believe that, in America, nobody should have to worry about going broke just because somebody in their family or they get sick,” Obama said. “We believe that nobody should have to choose between putting food on their kids’ table or taking them to see a doctor. We believe we’re a better country than a country where we allow, every day, 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage; or where every year, tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn’t have healthcare; or where out-of-pocket costs drove millions of citizens into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. We thought we were better than that, and that’s why we took this on.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) acknowledged that the roll-out “hasn’t been perfect,” but he argued that society is now “better off” as a result of the changes rendered in the new law.
“We knew this wouldn’t be easy, but it’s worth it,” he said. “This is the reform America wants and needs.”
Some critics, McDermott said, question why it proved necessary to abandon a system where individuals independently purchased healthcare coverage.
“I’ll tell you why — it was unhealthy, unfair and unsustainable,” McDermott said. “Health costs — one of the largest contributing factors to our national debt — were out of control. People were going bankrupt. The cost of providing care to the uninsured added an extra $1,000 a year to each family’s household bills through higher taxes, premiums, and healthcare costs. Coverage was dropped when customers needed it most and all over the country those with pre-existing conditions were helpless.”
“So let’s keep these conditions in mind as we discuss our progress,” he said. “It wasn’t Democrats that wanted a better system, it was America.”
Republicans dismissed Democratic hopes as whistling past the graveyard, maintaining that continued support for the measure spells political doom.
“The president’s healthcare law continues to wreak havoc on American families, small businesses and our economy,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “And it’s not just a broken website. This bill is fundamentally flawed, causing people to lose the doctor of their choice, causing them to lose their health plan. And if that isn’t enough, they’re having to pay much higher prices at the same time. So, House Republicans are going to continue to listen to our constituents, listen to the American people, and try to focus on protecting them from a fundamentally-flawed law.”