By Tom Cohen
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Use any metaphor you like — predators smelling blood, invaders storming the castle, a snowball growing in size and momentum as it rolls downhill.
All describe efforts by opponents of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms to kill the 2010 law after the botched launch of the HealthCare.gov website provided a new opening for attack.
Critics led by conservative Republicans target the Affordable Care Act itself, not just the website woes, in hopes of creating a public groundswell of opposition that will bolster GOP prospects in next year’s congressional elections.
Holding their House majority and winning back the Senate from Democratic control would increase leverage for weakening and perhaps even dismantling the reforms they despise as government overreach run amok.
At every opportunity, Republican leaders cite impacts so far — including canceled policies, higher premiums and limited options for some — as evidence that the dysfunctional website merely foreshadowed what they call an incurably flawed law.
When the Affordable Care Act passed with no Republican votes more than three years ago, “reasonable minds perhaps could have differed on whether Obamacare would work,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told CNN on Wednesday.
“Today, that’s not possible,” said Cruz, the tea party favorite who spearheaded the GOP fight against the reforms that led to the 16-day government shutdown in October. “In my view, coming together to stop Obamacare is the essence of pragmatism because it is self-evident this isn’t working.”
Keeping the pressure up
Cruz and his GOP colleagues plan to maintain that focus.
The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold “field hearings” in four states in coming weeks that will focus on consumer complaints about Obamacare. Friday’s initial event in North Carolina is titled “ObamaCare Implementation: Sticker Shock of Increased Premiums for Healthcare Coverage.”
In particular, Republican opponents lambast Obama for his “if you like your policy, you can keep your policy” pledge of past years that proved untrue for what could amount to several million Americans who bought their own insurance instead of getting coverage through employers or government programs.
While affecting less than 5% of the population, the cancellation notices to individual policyholders became a symbol of oversell by the President and Democrats that Republicans now exploit by citing public mistrust in the government.
Recent polls show already shaky support for Obamacare declining further, along with support for the President.
Obama accepted responsibility for the dysfunctional website that stymied the October 1 launch of the vital new insurance exchanges for people to shop for coverage, as well as the failure of the reforms to better protect those individual policy holders getting cancellation notices.
He framed the issue as facing expected challenges in trying to reform a failing health insurance system that left more than 40 million people without coverage and millions more lacking adequate policies.
“There have been times where I thought we were kind of, you know, slapped around a little bit unjustly. This one’s deserved, right? It’s on us,” Obama told reporters last week. “But, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the status quo before the Affordable Care Act was not working at all.”
Presidents and Democrats: What’s your counterproposal?
The President and Democrats complain that Republicans intent on eliminating Obamacare lack any serious proposals to help the uninsured get coverage and address the broader problem of bringing down overall health care costs, a goal of the reforms.
In a report released Wednesday by Jason Furman, Obama’s new head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the administration claimed health care spending from 2010 to 2013 grew at the lowest rate on record since 1965.
While House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal or otherwise undermine Obamacare, specific GOP proposals offer limited approaches, such as allowing insurers to offer health policies across state borders.
In addition, Republican leaders mention benefits of the reforms such as ending denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions as well as limits on total benefits. Instead, they frame their stand as protecting consumers facing higher costs and forced changes by the overhaul.
“We’re going to continue to do oversight so that we understand exactly what’s happening out there. Our members are going to continue to collect stories,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Tuesday, adding that there was “no decision” on specific steps Republicans might take. “But we’re going to do everything we can to try to protect the American people from this awful law.”
For his part, Obama also says the goal is to protect Americans, with the reforms providing coverage to people previously unable to afford it or determined ineligible by insurers to get it.
“I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time,” he said last week. “And I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years.”
Shoring up the HealthCare.gov website
For now, the administration continues work to get the HealthCare.gov website functioning well enough by the end of November so that most users can complete the enrollment process in a timely manner.
The enrollment period extends until March 31, and officials believe there will be time to reach the goal of about 7 million enrolled by then make the new exchanges economically viable.
Blocked out at http://www.HealthCare.gov? Bypass on way soon, feds say
Democrats, including Obama administration officials, concede that failure to get the website working properly soon will mean major trouble for the reform law.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee made clear the issue won’t go away any time soon.
In a sarcastic statement Wednesday, the RNC noted Democratic leaders say their candidates will be “eager and proud to run on Obamacare.”
“Because Republicans also look forward to making the 2014 election about ObamaCare,” it said, “the RNC has offered to give individual (Democratic) candidates a platform to speak for themselves and voice their support for the unpopular law.”
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