The Battle of Obamacare Anecdotes

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National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Nov. 25, 2013, 11:57 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans are fo­cused on col­lect­ing con­stitu­ent stor­ies to at­tack the health care law. But without a vi­able health care al­tern­at­ive, they have few solu­tions to of­fer those shar­ing their ex­per­i­ences.

Last Thursday, Mary Swan­son shared her Obama­care story with mem­bers of Con­gress from her home in south­w­est Michigan.

A Re­altor who re­cently re­ceived a can­cel­la­tion let­ter from her in­sur­ance com­pany, Swan­son said she and her hus­band will be fa­cing large in­creases in cov­er­age costs un­der the health care law. “We both work in fields that are very volat­ile, be­cause it’s totally de­pend­ent on the hous­ing mar­ket,” she said on a Google Hangout with Reps. Fred Up­ton, R-Mich., and John Shimkus, R-Ill.

“That is really bad,” Up­ton re­spon­ded. “That is really bad.”

As prob­lems with Obama­care im­ple­ment­a­tion con­tin­ue, House Re­pub­lic­ans are de­vel­op­ing an in­creas­ingly or­gan­ized at­tack plan go­ing in­to the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. The strategy is out­lined in an anti-Obama­care “play­book,” with an em­phas­is on col­lect­ing con­stitu­ent stor­ies that il­lus­trate neg­at­ive im­pacts of the law.

“Over the break we are en­cour­aging mem­bers to start col­lect­ing stor­ies re­lated to in­creased premi­ums/costs as well as se­cur­ity con­cerns,” Nate Hod­son, com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence, wrote in an email. “Our goal is to en­cour­age of­fices to use these stor­ies in all forms of com­mu­nic­a­tion — wheth­er on the floor, in hear­ings, in press re­leases, on so­cial me­dia, etc.”

House Re­pub­lic­ans are reach­ing out to con­stitu­ents through so­cial me­dia, emails, and their web­sites, and in­di­vidu­als are en­cour­aged to sub­mit their stor­ies at  www.gop.gov/yourstory.

“Health care is an ex­tremely per­son­al is­sue, so there is noth­ing more power­ful to com­mu­nic­ate than the per­son­al stor­ies of those be­ing im­pacted by this law,” Hod­son wrote.

Two Google Hangouts at the end of last week were the first fo­cused spe­cific­ally on Obama­care since im­ple­ment­a­tion began. Hod­son says mov­ing for­ward, a hand­ful each week will be fo­cused on the health care law.

“Thank you for be­ing here,” Shimkus greeted the three in­di­vidu­als on the hangout. “We’re real people here, you’re real people out there, we need to hear your stor­ies.”

Yet without a feas­ible Re­pub­lic­an health care al­tern­at­ive, rep­res­ent­at­ives have little to of­fer those shar­ing their stor­ies.

“You’re with mil­lions of oth­er Amer­ic­ans think­ing ex­actly the same thoughts,” Up­ton told Tim Brown, whose in­sur­ance plan was re­cently can­celed. “We don’t have the right an­swer that we’d like to provide for you.”

At no point did the law­makers sug­gest the par­ti­cipants look in­to wheth­er they would be eli­gible for sub­sidies or would have any oth­er op­tions un­der the law.

Those par­ti­cip­at­ing in the hangouts are primar­ily in­di­vidu­als whose pri­or plans have been can­celed, yet the law­makers made no men­tion of Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­cent an­nounce­ment that in­di­vidu­als could keep health plans that aren’t Af­fordabe Care Act-com­pli­ant for an­oth­er year if in­surers de­cided to ex­tend them. Up­ton’s bill al­low­ing in­di­vidu­als to keep their plans was men­tioned sev­er­al times as a po­ten­tial solu­tion, though Up­ton ac­know­ledged it would not pass the Sen­ate.

“House Re­pub­lic­ans have con­tin­ued to of­fer ideas,” Rory Cooper, com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, wrote in an email. “But any real re­form that lowers costs and in­creases ac­cess must be­gin with the re­peal of Obama­care.”

With re­peal still an un­real­ist­ic goal, and little unity be­hind a dis­tinct Obama­care al­tern­at­ive, the strategy’s end goal re­mains un­clear. Yet as they re­turn to their dis­tricts for the hol­i­day, Re­pub­lic­ans re­main com­mit­ted to col­lect­ing stor­ies as am­muni­tion against the law.

“I hope y’all keep the heat up on it,” Brown urged the law­makers at the end of the call.

“Oh we will,” Up­ton re­spon­ded. “The burn­er’s on high.”

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