Protests, videos, and news conferences greeted the second anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Friday. No interest group, think tank, or prominent lawmaker wanted to be left out as supporters and opponents jockeyed to have their voices heard on the Obama administration's signature domestic initiative.
Groups from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health issued statements, along with dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The day was punctuated by warring narratives about the effects of the law, which continues to deeply divide the country two years after President Obama signed it.
Stinging from criticism that President Obama has done too little to promote the health care law, the White House issued a report highlighting what the law already has done.
“Today, two years after we passed health care reform, more young adults have insurance, more seniors are saving money on their prescription drugs, and more Americans can rest easy knowing they won’t be dropped from their insurance plans if they get sick,” Obama said in a statement. “The law has made a difference for millions of Americans, and over time, it will help give even more working and middle-class families the security they deserve.”
The dry report contrasts with the circus atmosphere everywhere else in Washington on the law's anniversary and Monday's start of oral arguments on its constitutionality before the Supreme Court. Opponents of the law held panel discussions and released their own videos to counter ones circulated by the Obama administration showing families talking about how the legislation has benefited them. The Stop the Health Insurance Tax Coalition released a video using bakeries as examples of small businesses it said would be hurt by the law. The American Lung Association countered with its own video on behalf of the administration.
White House press secretary Jay Carney complained that Republican opponents of the law had outspent the administration and misrepresented the law's effects. "Now, what the [Republican National Committee] and others who are critics of this leave out in their attacks is that they want to go back to a system where insurance companies have all the rules on their side—not consumers, not the American people; where they can deny your coverage like that," snapping his fingers, "if you have a preexisting condition; where they can say no if you want to add your child to your health insurance policy; where they can throw you off your insurance policy if you get sick," Carney told reporters.
The Republican presidential candidates weighed in. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in USA Today arguing for repeal. “Whatever the Supreme Court decides about the constitutionality of Obamacare, we already know that it is bad policy and wrong for America. Abolishing it and putting sensible changes in its place will be one of my highest priorities as president," Romney wrote. Rival Rick Santorum marked the anniversary by taking square aim at the health care legislation championed by the former Massachusetts governor while he was in office instead, which many have said was a model for the national plan. "Since Romneycare = Obamacare, we know we can expect more of the same broken promises," read one of the releases blasted out by his campaign on Friday.
Perhaps the loudest display of opposition came Friday morning outside the Health and Human Services building as hundreds of demonstrators convened to protest the HHS contraception mandate. The “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally was organized by religious institutions protesting the rule requiring coverage of birth-control care as well as various groups opposed to legal abortion rights. Protesters at several points took up a chant of “We will not comply!” Organizers said the Supreme Court decision, due later this spring, would be as important as the watershed Roe v.Wade decision legalizing abortion rights.
Speakers took aim alternately at the health care legislation as a whole, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as part of its larger mission to provide health care to women.