WASHINGTON – President Obama and congressional Democrats, seizing on the good news of an improving health care website and rising enrollments, are challenging Republicans to present an alternative for hundreds of thousands of Americans gaining access to insurance, many for the first time, as part of a political counteroffensive against the health law’s opponents.
In the House Wednesday, Democratic women pressed Republicans for a plan that could match the 105 million Americans who they said had received free preventive health services, which is guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee singled out about 60 House Republicans, accusing them of plotting to take away immunizations for children, cancer screenings and mammograms, part of the effort to highlight parts of the law that are popular with the public and remind people of what would be lost if it were repealed.
The president’s aides said that with fixes in place to the online insurance marketplace, they hoped a daily barrage of more positive messages about the health care law during the next several weeks – some to be delivered by Obama personally – would help refocus attention on the benefits of the law. Obama addressed a White House Youth Summit meeting Wednesday, and today he will talk about how the law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions.
White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders said the effort was intended to get rank-and-file Democrats out of the defensive crouch they had been in for the last two months by countering the barrage of negative stories from Republicans. The push comes amid reports of an enrollment surge since the administration announced improvements in the performance of the federal marketplace. About 29,000 people selected insurance plans on HealthCare.gov during the first two days of December, 3,000 more than the total who signed up in the entire month of October, according to people familiar with the numbers.
The battle over the president’s signature domestic achievement is far from over, but this week, for the first time since the rollout of HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1, Democrats seem prepared to fight.
Three weeks ago, House Democratic “strike teams” initiated a daily morning conference call to go over health care messages. Wednesday, more than 40 congressional aides, including Senate aides and administration officials, had joined.
House Democrats have begun passing along positive stories in their districts – of constituents obtaining insurance for the first time and gaining access to preventive care – during coordinated morning speeches that have become dueling anecdotes from the health care wars.
Even some Republicans are grudgingly saying that the health care law is already too established for a wholesale repeal, and with thousands of uninsured signing up daily, that option grows more distant each week.
“It’s not in dispute that many Americans’ lives are being disrupted in an important way by this law,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va. “Is it also true that some Americans’ lives have gotten better? Yes, and to not acknowledge that is to deny reality.” The health care law, he said, needs “more of a course change than a course reversal.”
But even with the glimmers of good news, the law faces enormous challenges. A poll conducted last month and released Wednesday by the Harvard University Institute of Politics found that a solid majority of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 – a constituency crucial to the success of the health law – disapproved of the law, and among the 22 percent of that age group who did not have insurance, only 29 percent said they would definitely or probably enroll.