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Obama tries to nail down healthcare legacy

Republicans say the debate over Obamacare is far from over

President Barack Obama, followed by Vice President Joe Biden, arrives at the White House Rose Garden to speak about Obamacare Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster

Obama tries to nail down healthcare legacy

President Barack Obama’s verbal victory lap this week over Obamacare’s enrollment numbers included his declaration that the “debate is over” when it comes to his signature healthcare overhaul.

“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Obama said during his 20-minute speech in the White House’s Rose Garden. His appearance marked the sign-up deadline for those wanting to purchase health insurance on the government-run exchanges in time to avoid facing a fine imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.

Many Democrats crammed behind Obama in the Oval Office when he signed Obamacare into law four years ago, but few were willing to publicly join him this week in declaring the debate is over.

Obama on Tuesday said lawmakers who voted for the law “should be proud of what they’ve done.” Yet few of them sent out press releases with “mission accomplished” messages after the arrival of Obamacare’s latest enrollment deadline. With Democrats in danger of losing control of Congress this fall, few of the most vulnerable incumbents will be asking Obama to bring his Obamacare pep rally out on the campaign trail.

“If the president feels so good about the so-called success of his healthcare law, then we encourage him to campaign with Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and all the other Senate Democrats who unanimously voted for Obamacare,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement, calling out Landrieu, D-La., and Pryor, D-Ark., vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election.

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday morning showed 55 percent of voters oppose Obamacare, while 40 percent are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the healthcare law. By a 2-1 margin, according to the poll, independents are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Obamacare. A majority of women and one in five Democrats oppose the law.

“It’s because this is no longer some political issue they're hearing about on the news,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said this week on Fox News. “This is personal, it’s happening to people.”

Americans are losing healthcare coverage they were happy with, while the healthcare coverage they are left with costs more, Rubio said. Some Americans can no longer see the doctors they used to visit.

“The bottom line is they have disrupted the entire health care marketplace for all Americans,” Rubio continued, “and all they have to show for it is a small miniscule dent in the number of people that were uninsured that are now insured.”

Obama’s White House celebration focused on the estimated 7 million Obamacare customers. It was a number the administration hoped to hit by the March 31 deadline.

But many unanswered questions came with those numbers. The administration didn’t disclose how many enrollees were previously uninsured compared to how many bought into the exchanges after having their health insurance canceled by Obamacare’s mandates. Those cancellations, compared with the new enrollments, could mean the net gain was low.

“It is estimated that Obamacare caused 6 million or so to lose their insurance,” explained Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. “So a net 1 million … does not seem particularly helpful.”

Also unknown is how many young adults are enrolling. Obamacare won’t pass any tests until such demographic breakdowns are provided and verified.

The 7 million enrollees touted Tuesday are far fewer than earlier Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates of Obamacare’s impact. The CBO in 2010 predicted the number of uninsured Americans would drop by 19 million by 2014. Early this year, the CBO revised that figure to 13 million, and that number is significantly below the reported 30 million uninsured people in this country.

One of the Democrats who did attend the White House Obamacare party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday the number of uninsured who signed up was not the real measure of Obamacare. She argued Obamacare was about improving “quality and affordability,” claiming Americans would save trillions of dollars over the bill’s lifetime.

“It will reduce costs for people,” she said. “And even if they pay a little more in some cases, they’re getting much better care.”

Pelosi’s statement not only contradicts claims made by Democrats throughout the 2009 debate over the bill, but it also seems to ignore recent claims by the insurance industry.

Some insurance groups already predict older Americans are signing up at a higher rate than the young and healthy people needed to keep the program financially afloat. If the ratio tilts toward older and sicker enrollees, then insurance premiums will rise. Some insurance groups have predicted that Obamacare premiums could double as soon as this year.

That increase would be a blow to Obama’s campaign pledge that his healthcare law would “cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.” But Obama does not have to go before the voters any more. The premium jump could devastate his Democratic colleagues who will be on the ballot this November and boost the chance that Republicans control Congress for the final two years of Obama’s presidency.

“Under Obamacare, the American people are paying more and getting less,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. “Less access, less quality, fewer choices, and a healthcare system that is increasingly responsive to Washington’s needs at the expense of individuals and families.”

Many Democrats hope Obamacare will fade from voters’ minds before this November and that their last memory of it will be the media’s coverage of Tuesday’s Rose Garden celebration. But voters are unlikely to forget the higher premiums and the repeated crashes of the Obamacare website, which froze again on the deadline day for signups despite the government’s spending $677 million to make sure the site would not go down.

Obama in his Rose Garden ceremony did not mention the cost of the website, though he did jab at reporters for putting the website’s “stumbles” on the front page. Obama also didn’t mention the nearly 40 delays to and exemptions from Obamacare that his administration has doled out. He didn’t bring up his past comments, dubbed the “lie of the year” by some media outlets, that if you like your insurance, you can keep it. But Obama did mention one thing that even Republicans would agree with:

“Premiums are still rising for families who have insurance,” Obama said, before going on to blame Republican governors for refusing to work with Obamacare.

Those rate hikes and other Obamacare uncertainties are why so many rank-and-file Democrats were silent on Tuesday while their leaders celebrated. Pelosi told reporters while leaving the White House Obamacare party that she would now focus her attention elsewhere.

“I think that, while we’re proud of the Affordable Care Act, we now pivot to job creation,” she said.

She is right that most elections are about jobs. But now, thousands of jobs are tied to Obamacare and its mandates. This November, voters will register their own opinions on whether the debate about Obamacare is over.

Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is the executive director of the World Journalism Institute and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and teaches journalism at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.


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