Democrats, GOP change tactics in health care battle - The Buffalo News

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Democrats, GOP change tactics in health care battle

WASHINGTON – The health care website’s improved performance has both political parties shifting strategies, with President Obama’s team preparing a January advertising blitz and a wave of celebrity promotions to boost enrollment, allies said.

On Capitol Hill, Republican opponents of the health care law are emphasizing new points of attack, highlighting examples of people who are paying more for insurance – including House Speaker John Boehner, and those losing access to their doctors as they shift plans, congressional aides said.

Spirits among the president’s health care advisers have been “significantly uplifted” this week, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a Washington-based advocacy group with close ties to the administration. “There is a great deal of relief about how the website has been improved.”

The stakes riding on the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are high: Obama’s presidential legacy and control of the Senate in 2014 midterm elections could hinge on public perceptions of the law.

The administration and supporters of the health law are determined to avoid tit-for-tat controversies with Republicans and instead focus on driving enrollment and promoting the benefits of the law.

Yet if Republicans retake the Senate chamber and hold their House majority, Obama could spend his last two years in office vetoing legislation aimed at undermining or repealing the law.

Such partisan fighting would hobble Obama’s ability to entrench his signature domestic achievement alongside now-sacrosanct entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and President George W. Bush’s prescription drug benefit.

Obama already has suffered damage from the botched rollout. For the first time, 53 percent of Americans say he isn’t trustworthy or honest, according to a Nov. 25 CNN/ORC International survey.

The health care law now has the “opportunity to realize the potential by the end of March,” when the initial six-month open enrollment period ends, said David Plouffe, a former senior Obama adviser. Republicans’ “get-rid-of-Obamacare message is getting less effective by the day as more people sign up.”

Next week, a number of celebrities will join in an effort organized by an independent group to boost enrollment on the online exchanges, said a person familiar with the plan, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. An advertising blitz will begin in January after the holiday season has ended, said the person.

Scarlett Johansson, Aisha Tyler and Gabrielle Union already have recorded phone messages that Planned Parenthood is using to promote enrollment. Actresses Lena Dunham of “Girls” and Elizabeth Banks of “Hunger Games” posted Twitter messages to promote a Planned Parenthood Internet town hall this week on the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, Planned Parenthood, which provides health services to women, will “ramp up significantly” its efforts to promote enrollment in January, deploying hundreds of staff members with a goal of contacting a half-million people in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, said Rachel Fleischer, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Enroll America, an advocacy group with close ties to the White House, plans more than a thousand events across the country to promote coverage during the first three weeks of December, a 40 percent increase from the same period in November, said Justin Nisly, a spokesman.

As the Democrats attempted to change the momentum in the fight, Republicans focused on examples of people who will pay higher insurance premiums, with Boehner citing his own experience Thursday.

Boehner’s new coverage plan will almost double his premiums and about triple his co-pays, he told reporters. “I’m thrilled to death,” he said dryly.

A Boehner aide who insisted on anonymity said the speaker currently pays a monthly premium of $433 and an annual deductible of $700 under his congressional plan. He would have a monthly $802 premium and a deductible of $2,000 for an equivalent family plan offered on the District of Columbia insurance exchange. His office documented Boehner’s enrollment through photos and blog posts.

Unlike most employer-provided group plans, the Affordable Care Act individual plans charge more for older beneficiaries and for smokers. Boehner is a 64-year-old smoker.

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