Obamacare Draws New Round of Attacks

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (R) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (L) arrive for a vote October 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. On the 16th day of a government shutdown, the Senate has approved a bill to reopen the government until January 15 and raise the nation's debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. 
National Journal
Catherine Hollander
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Catherine Hollander
Oct. 21, 2013, 5:32 p.m.

Just days after a bruis­ing battle over the coun­try’s budget left the Af­ford­able Care Act largely un­changed, Re­pub­lic­ans are for­mu­lat­ing their next round of at­tacks in their three-year war against the un­pop­u­lar health care law.

There’s a key dif­fer­ence this time around: The law has been rolled out, and the on­line in­sur­ance mar­ket­places that opened on Oct. 1 are provid­ing op­pon­ents with plenty of am­muni­tion.

The massive tech­nic­al prob­lems plaguing the ex­changes are mak­ing front-page head­lines now that the 16-day fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down is over, prompt­ing Pres­id­ent Obama him­self to ad­dress the situ­ation dir­ectly on Monday.

The prob­lems have al­lowed Re­pub­lic­ans to be­gin high­light­ing the im­pact that the law is hav­ing on real Amer­ic­ans as part of their anti-ACA strategy.

“When a vis­it to the Obama­care web­site makes a trip to the DMV seem pleas­ant, it’s time for the Pres­id­ent to con­sider delay­ing this rushed ef­fort,” Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., said in a state­ment.

Her­it­age Ac­tion, a con­ser­vat­ive group that strongly op­poses the health-re­form law, is col­lect­ing real-world stor­ies about the law’s fail­ure on its web­site as part of a three-pronged ap­proach to at­tack­ing Obama­care, says com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Dan Holler.

In the com­ing months, the group plans to high­light the law’s im­pact on Amer­ic­ans; de­vel­op a le­gis­lat­ive strategy that GOP act­iv­ists out­side and in­side Wash­ing­ton can rally around; and fo­cus on the four red-state Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors — Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, Mark Be­gich of Alaska, and Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana — who sup­por­ted the law.

“They need to be held ac­count­able,” Holler said.

The le­gis­lat­ive strategy would be akin to this fall’s failed move­ment to de­fund the law, spear­headed by Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida. The trio of sen­at­ors had called on their col­leagues this sum­mer to vote against any budget bills that provide fund­ing for Obama­care. It’s too early to say what the next le­gis­lat­ive strategy will be, Holler says. Not every GOP law­maker sup­por­ted the de­fund­ing push.

In the mean­time, GOP law­makers are call­ing for heads to roll over the troubled Obama­care web­site. Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Re­ince Priebus said last week that Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us should be fired, and GOP law­makers have since joined in.

The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee sched­uled a hear­ing for Thursday on the law’s “im­ple­ment­a­tion fail­ures.” The com­mit­tee said Monday that lead con­tract­ors who built the web­site will testi­fy, and that Se­beli­us her­self is ex­pec­ted to ap­pear next week.

Holler says the fo­cus on the law’s im­ple­ment­a­tion is tied to the GOP’s op­pos­i­tion to the law as a policy. “It’s really hard to sep­ar­ate the two. Folks try to write this off as a glitch. I think that’s a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what’s hap­pen­ing,” he said. “It sort of goes in­to, “˜Do you trust the gov­ern­ment to have this much con­trol of any­thing?’ “

The real-life im­pacts of the law, of course, cut both ways. Demo­crats can now point to con­crete ways that cov­er­age un­der the law is help­ing in­di­vidu­als, and when Obama spoke about the law’s rol­lout in the Rose Garden on Monday, he was flanked by people who had be­nefited from its pro­vi­sions.

But des­pite the new an­ec­dot­al in­form­a­tion each side is cit­ing, real data on the law’s suc­cess — or lack there­of — is still ab­sent. The White House is not ex­pec­ted to re­lease the en­roll­ment num­bers un­til mid-Novem­ber. Open en­roll­ment stretches un­til late March, and many people, par­tic­u­larly the young and healthy, who will be cru­cial to the law’s suc­cess but may be least mo­tiv­ated to get cov­er­age, are ex­pec­ted to sign up to­ward the end of the peri­od.

It’s not yet clear wheth­er the prob­lems will im­pact the num­ber of people who ul­ti­mately sign up for cov­er­age. The non­par­tis­an Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice es­tim­ated earli­er this year that 7 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans would sign up through the on­line mar­ket­places.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has not giv­en a tar­get date for fix­ing the prob­lems, but an­nounced Sunday it was bring­ing in “the best and bright­est” tech minds in the pub­lic and private sec­tors to help.

Obama, mean­while, said Monday that the ACA was “not just a web­site” and em­phas­ized that “the product is good,” even if the means to buy it is hav­ing prob­lems. He also em­phas­ized the pos­it­ive im­pact of the parts of the law that went in­to ef­fect be­fore Oct. 1, such as the pro­vi­sion that al­lows young adults un­der age 26 to re­main on their par­ents’ health in­sur­ance plan.

Mean­while, the drum­beat of cri­ti­cism con­tin­ues. “[The Af­ford­able Care Act’s] fail­ings … are not lim­ited to its web­site or its rol­lout,” Cruz said in a state­ment on Monday.

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