By Elise Viebeck - 05/01/13 09:00 AM EDT
Anxious Democrats fear a botched implementation of ObamaCare could dash their hopes of controlling the House and Senate for President Obama’s last two years in office.
At his press conference Tuesday, Obama acknowledged “glitches and bumps” in the law’s rollout, but some congressional Democrats fear much worse.
One high-ranking Democrat told The Hill that it is his leading concern.
The Democratic legislator said the White House has focused on implementation with the
assumption that consumers will come to understand the law with time.
“I have a different view,” he said, acknowledging a “significant disconnect” in the public’s understanding of the Affordable Care Act.
“While you’re lining up the operational elements, you’ve got to start to reach out and communicate … I’ve said [to senior officials], ‘You guys need to pivot, quickly, from the wholesale to the retail, or you need to do both at the same time.’”
The Obama administration will enlist “navigators” starting this summer to help people understand their new healthcare options.
There has been speculation that implementation dates might have to be pushed back, but Democratic sources say that the White House is forging ahead and there is no talk of such a move.
ObamaCare helped Republicans gain control of the House in 2010, and the GOP is hoping the law will bolster its chances of wresting the Senate from Democratic control in 2014.
To win back the House, Democrats must pick up 17 seats. That will be all but impossible if the implementation of ObamaCare is rocky.
The administration faces a major test in preparation for Jan. 1, 2014, when the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, Medicaid expansion and consumer protections are scheduled to take effect.
The public remains mostly ignorant of the law, and Democrats worry that the education campaigns set to launch this summer will not be enough to seize the ObamaCare narrative from Republicans.
The GOP enjoys fertile ground for attacks on the president’s signature law. According to a poll that was released Tuesday, 4 in 10 people don’t even know ObamaCare is still on the books, and overall opinion leans slightly negative.
There are many questions about the law’s effects, especially how it will impact premiums and whether private employers will drop coverage and move workers into the state insurance exchanges.
Regardless, most Democrats still tout the law as a landmark victory for patients and note its popularity among Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic in the nation.
But Republicans have been eager to capitalize on concessions from top Democrats that implementation will not be entirely smooth.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently conceded that some people’s premiums will rise under the law.
Obama said Tuesday that his administration’s “big undertaking” will involve some mistakes.
“That’s pretty much true of every government program that’s ever been set up. But if we stay with it … then we’re going to be able to drive down costs,” he said.
Obama also pointed to the latest draft application for coverage in the exchanges. After criticism, the administration cut the form down to three pages for individuals.
“Those kinds of refinements we’re going to continue working on,” Obama said.
The president’s comments came in the wake of a recent prediction from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that the implementation of ObamaCare will be a “train wreck” unless people learn more about the law. Baucus, who won’t seek reelection next year, helped craft the Affordable Care Act.
The “train wreck” phrase has been featured prominently in intensifying Republican attacks against sitting Democrats who supported the bill.
“Voters will remember that every incumbent Senate Democrat has their fingerprints all over this train wreck,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC)spokesman Brad Dayspring in a statement.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D) this week attempted to distance herself from ObamaCare during a debate with former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R). Colbert Bush and Sanford are vying for the House seat vacated by now-Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) says Republicans are playing politics: “Obstructing the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act has become a priority for House Republicans. We’ve got to be proactive and not allow them to try and bring down the Affordable Care Act on a piecemeal basis to serve their partisan goals.”
Obama and the DCCC are working much more closely together in the 2014 election cycle than they did in 2012.
After the 2012 election, Israel told The Hill that he and Obama had several “personal conversations” about coordination efforts. On a number of occasions, Obama has promised to help House Democrats in 2014, according to the DCCC chairman.
Democratic strategists are urging candidates to aggressively explain and defend ObamaCare.
“A lot of this is psychological warfare — Republicans scaring Democrats into believing that this issue is [the GOP’s] silver bullet for the next election,” said Doug Thornell, a senior vice president with SKDKnickerbocker. “I would tell Dems not to take the bait.”
Thornell added that Democrats should fill the messaging vacuum by criticizing Republicans as dysfunctional on healthcare.
“The Republicans were unable to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said, pointing to the GOP bill on high-risk insurance pools that was pulled from the House floor last week.
“Their answer to dealing with the healthcare crisis in this country is to do nothing,” he said.