GOP seeks to benefit from Sebelius admission on healthcare cost hikes

Republican campaign officials are claiming new momentum for 2014 after the Obama administration admitted that some consumers could see their health insurance premiums rise under healthcare reform.

This week's surprise concession from federal Health secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusMr. President, let markets help save Medicare IRS Tax Day glitch exposes antiquated tech infrastructure Trump administration's reforms could make welfare work again MORE played into the GOP's No. 1 message against the Affordable Care Act — that it will raise healthcare costs.

The remark triggered a rush of campaign messaging against vulnerable Democrats who supported healthcare reform.

"ObamaCare is becoming more unpopular by the day as more Americans experience the disastrous consequences of higher insurance premiums," said Tyler Houlton, a spokesman with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

"It’s a very big deal that President Obama’s top healthcare official finally admitted that ObamaCare will drastically increase health insurance premiums on middle class families," he said.

The controversy points to the challenge facing the Obama administration as it implements a cumbersome and politically volatile reform whose full impact may not be understood for decades.

In the past, top Democrats have predicted that the Affordable Care Act will lower the average premium — still a likely outcome, according to many experts.

But an increasing number of studies have provided fodder for GOP attacks, warning that the law could raise rates on the individual and small-group health insurance markets.

It was against this backdrop that Sebelius conceded Tuesday that a select number of consumers may pay more for healthcare under the overhaul.

"There may be a higher cost associated with getting into that market" where "folks will be moving into a really fully insured product for the first time," Sebelius told reporters, noting the law's new quality standards for insurance.

"I am a believer in the market strategies that in and of itself will minimize the rate impact," she added.

The comment quickly reverberated in the media, drawing swift response from Capitol Hill and the Republican campaign establishment.

In emails to state-based press, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) slammed six Democratic senators for "misleading claims about the cost of ObamaCare."

The NRCC and Republican National Committee released similar memos.

On Friday, officials pointed to 2014, and said their efforts were only the beginning.

"Americans are beginning to see the costly, painful new taxes, penalties and regulations of ObamaCare firsthand which Senate Democrats will have to explain back at home," said NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen.

"Like President Obama, Democratic Senators like Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusClients’ Cohen ties become PR liability Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan MORE and candidates like Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer MORE promised that health care costs wouldn't go up, but that's exactly what has happened to the middle-class," Hougesen said.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have argued that premium hikes, if they take place, will hit very few Americans.

Nonpartisan healthcare experts agree.

Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said most people should not fear higher premiums as the result of healthcare reform.

"We're talking about a sliver of the population that might be subject to the kinds of changes these studies are predicting," Levitt told The Hill.

"Some people will see their premiums go up, but frankly, more people will see their premiums go down," he said.

The Obama administration did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

But this week, White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the Affordable Care Act for helping to slow the growth of U.S. healthcare costs.

Earnest predicted that the law will result in "rates that are lower for higher benefits" and improve the quality of care for patients.

"The reason that the Affordable Care Act was put in place was to ensure that we were expanding access to healthcare for every American, but also because we wanted to actually protect consumers who were repeatedly victimized by insurance companies," he said.