Health reform implementation

Obama to shift strategy on healthcare in 2012

President Obama, who offered to work with Republicans last year to revamp the healthcare reform law, is expected to adopt a much different tone in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Bruised from the huge GOP electoral gains in 2010, Obama said he wanted to work in a bipartisan fashion on healthcare in last year’s speech. Republicans scoffed at what was called an olive branch, and worked to repeal the entire law. While the GOP-led House passed such a measure, the legislation was defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The battle lines this year are even more sharply drawn ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the law’s constitutionality, which is expected months before the election. Both sides are dug in, hoping the high court’s ruling will give them momentum this fall.

{mosads}It is unclear how much Obama will address healthcare reform in what Republicans hope will be his last State of the Union. Polls show that the health law is unpopular, and Democrats have acknowledged that the GOP has beat them on the intense message war over the merits of the reforms enacted in 2010.

A year ago, Obama used humor to broach the sensitive topic that helped Republicans win back the House.

“I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new healthcare law,” the president told Congress last year, a line that attracted bipartisan laughs. “So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.”

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, says he remembers the speech like it was yesterday. When the president called for action on medical malpractice reform, he said, he grabbed his neighbor, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), to join him in standing applause.

“I fired off a letter the next day,” Burgess said Friday. “I’m still waiting for an answer.”

Democrats, meanwhile, point to some bipartisan actions.

After several aborted attempts, Congress in 2011 finally repealed the law’s so-called “1099” tax reporting requirement. And the two parties got together to tighten the eligibility standards for people to qualify for the law’s massive Medicaid expansion in 2014.

The White House at the time said it “look[ed] forward to working with the House to ensure the bill achieves the intended result.”

Beyond that, though, the two parties mostly fired shots at each other.

House Republicans in their first major legislative action of the year unanimously voted to repeal the law in its entirety, defying an Obama veto threat. The legislation subsequently died in the upper chamber.

For the most part, congressional Democrats have stayed united in their defense of the law’s long-term CLASS Act even though the administration will not implement, claiming it is unworkable.

The White House is opposed to repealing the provision, a position Burgess points to as proof that Obama wasn’t serious when he offered to improve the law.

“Just the presence of the CLASS Act harms the overall legislation,” he said. “If [Democrats] were really serious about [working with us], they wouldn’t be fighting against the CLASS Act repeal.”

He said he didn’t expect any further bipartisan fixes to the law in 2012.

“It’s almost impossible to get the Senate to consider anything the House does,” he said.

Yet, House Republicans plan on using the CLASS Act as an election-year weapon. The CLASS repeal measure, and another bill that would eradicate a controversial payment advisory board stipulated in healthcare reform, are expected to pass the House this year.

An administration official declined to discuss the contents of Obama’s speech on Tuesday, but said, “We’ve worked diligently to implement the Affordable Care Act and we’re making incredible progress. Thanks to the new law, 2.5 million more young adults have health insurance, millions of seniors have cheaper prescription drugs and we’ve ended the worst insurance company abuses….We always welcome good ideas from anyone about how to make health care better and more affordable.”

Correction: This article was updated Monday to say that Rep. Burgess was sitting next to Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), not Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), during last year’s State of the Union.

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