By Elise Viebeck - 06/15/13 04:00 PM EDT
Republican lawmakers say they anticipate a flood of questions in the coming months from constituents on the implementation of ObamaCare, which will pose a dilemma for the GOP. [WATCH VIDEO]
Some Republicans indicated to The Hill they will not assist constituents in navigating the law and obtaining benefits. Others said they would tell people to call the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
"Given that we come from Kansas, it's much easier to say, 'Call your former governor,'" said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R), referring to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"You say, 'She's the one. She's responsible. She was your governor, elected twice, and now you reelected the president, but he picked her.'" Huelskamp said.
"We know how to forward a phone call," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).
"I have two dedicated staff who deal with nothing, but ObamaCare and immigration problems," he added. "I'm sure there will be an uptick in that, but all we can do is pass them back to the Obama administration. The ball's in their court. They're responsible for it."
Government officials are bracing for upheaval as ObamaCare's biggest provisions take effect in the next seven months.
The law will affect millions of people by offering them benefits through the insurance exchanges and the Medicaid expansion. It also has massive implications for businesses as they comply with a flurry of regulations related to employee health coverage.
Polls have shown that the public is largely ignorant about the law and how it operates. This dynamic adds to the task facing the Obama administration and its supporters before the fall, when enrollment is scheduled to begin.
It also means that congressional offices — Republican and Democratic— are likely to face a slew of calls from people learning about their benefits for the first time.
This influx of constituent questions could start as early as next week, as supporters of the law kick off their Get Covered America enrollment campaign.
But interest is likely to be most intense throughout the fall and spring, as the uninsured navigate their options and after coverage kicks in on Jan. 1, 2014.
A few GOP lawmakers said they are not preparing for a lot of calls, or haven't thought about what to do.
GOP leaders have not issued detailed instructions to their members on how to handle ObamaCare inquiries.
"We encourage them to provide the best constituent services possible," said a House leadership aide, who added that "members determine what is best for their districts."
"They have their own methodologies, and we respect that," the staffer said.
House leaders have organized a group known as HOAP — the House ObamaCare Accountability Project — to organize a messaging strategy against the law that will trickle down to constituents.
The group has an eye on August recess, when member town halls will inevitably turn to healthcare issues.
The GOP Conference may also offer special staff trainings on enrollment, depending on how much information comes from HHS before October. Several members told The Hill they would be interested in some help.
Republicans are confident that the government's most ambitious undertaking in recent memory will collapse under its own weight. ObamaCare opponents have relished signs of trouble for the law's implementation, from HHS's calls for more funding to a draft application for benefits that was 21 pages long.
Some have predicted that federal health officials will delay the insurance exchanges, perhaps until after the 2014 midterm elections. The Obama administration denies this will happen.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who helped draft ObamaCare, called GOP inaction on educating constituents “outrageous.”
"For many families, this may be the first time they have access to real healthcare coverage. This can be a matter of life and death," said Miller.
"This is a real dereliction of duty for Republicans," he added.
There are some Republicans who plan to answer constituents' questions, however.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (Ga.), co-chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, said he will "always" help people who have questions about the federal government.
"If a constituent wants to know something, I'm going to be truthful to then, even if I absolutely hate the program," said Gingrey, who is running for the Senate.
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), who ran for Congress in part because of his opposition to ObamaCare, is planning to hold town hall meetings on the law for individuals and small businesses.
"We're going to play them absolutely straight," he said. "We're going to invite some experts, and they're going to explain what is going to help and what is going to hurt."
Schweikert was among several GOP members who criticized HHS as uncommunicative, both with members of Congress and with businesspeople seeking answers about healthcare reform.
"We're getting complaints," he said. "Insurance companies, people who want to be 'navigators' — they say they're not getting their calls returned."
HHS said it is committed to making sure Congress is equipped to deal with questions.
"We are continuously speaking to stakeholders to educate them about the law," said one senior administration official.
"Members of Congress will play a key role in helping Americans access affordable, quality care on the marketplace, and we’re working to ensure that they have accurate information to help their constituents as we approach the start of open enrollment on Oct. 1.”