The insurance reforms at the heart of the Democrats’ healthcare law started to take effect Thursday, six months after President Obama signed the legislation.
Insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage for sick kids, set lifetime coverage limits or use technical errors to drop patients when they get sick. White House health officials are cheering those changes in hopes that they will resonate with voters in November.
"Today is the day that the worst abuses of insurance companies come to an end in America,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday at a Capitol Hill press conference. "It’s long overdue for millions of Americans who now will have some peace of mind."
Republicans, meanwhile, used the six-month anniversary of the law's passage to intensify their calls for repealing it. At a lumber shop in Northern Virginia, GOP leaders unveiled their "Pledge to America," a legislative wish list that devotes an entire chapter to repealing healthcare reform and replacing it with Republican alternatives.
"The American people wanted one thing out of health care reform: lower costs, which President Obama and Democrats in Washington promised, but did not deliver," the Pledge states.
Republicans want to scrap the Democrats' bill and replace it with provisions that would expand personal health savings accounts, limit medical malpractice claims and allow patients to buy health insurance across state lines — all concepts that were largely rejected by Democrats during the marathon healthcare debate that began more than a year ago.
While "not intended to cover everything under the sun," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday, the 21-page document outlines "first steps" toward controlling annual federal deficits that have jumped well above $1 trillion in recent years.
"The federal government is too big, it spends too much, and it's out of control."
The Pledge, Boehner added, is "a governing agenda that could be enacted tomorrow."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby, slammed the healthcare law Thursday for the new requirements it places on small businesses. In particular, the business lobby is leery of a provision requiring companies to report more purchases to the IRS — a revenue generator that even Democrats have tried, unsuccessfully, to scale back.
The Obama administration was quick to push back against the conservatives' call for repeal. Writing Thursday on the White House blog, Stephanie Cutter, the president's communications guru, noted that repealing the reforms would eliminate all the patient protections that just took effect.
"Just as we’ve started to hold insurance companies accountable," Cutter wrote, "a new Congressional Republican agenda wants to put them back in charge."
The reforms that launched Thursday will also allow young adults to remain under their parents' coverage up to age 26, and require all new plans to cover a minimum set of preventive care services.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) cheered the reforms for breaking "the stranglehold insurance companies have had over our health care decisions."
“Republicans who argue in favor of repealing this legislation want to strip Americans of these protections and move our nation backward," Pelosi said in a statement. "We will not go back."