Turning the tables on health care

Turning the tables on health care
© Courtesy of Brad Woodhouse

Ever since ObamaCare passed in 2010, Republicans have sought to weaponize it against Democrats, and Brad Woodhouse has been ready to turn the tables.

Woodhouse, a veteran Democratic operative, works as executive director of Protect Our Care, where he helped to bring health care to the forefront of the 2018 midterm elections. 

Democrats reclaimed the House majority after highlighting the multiple Republican attempts to repeal ObamaCare and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. They promised to stop what they say is the Trump administration’s “sabotage” of the law and stabilize the marketplace.

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The party also vowed to intervene in a lawsuit brought by GOP state attorneys general that seeks to invalidate the entire law.

Woodhouse, a former spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was tapped as Protect Our Care’s campaign director in 2017 to help lead the fight against the GOP attempt to repeal ObamaCare. The group worked with other left-leaning advocacy organizations to showcase the consequences if the law disappeared.

Woodhouse said he didn’t pause to take a victory lap when repeal efforts went down: He was busy pushing to change the party’s mindset.

“When we won the repeal fight, that was great for Democrats, but there was still a sense of being on the defensive. There was still kind of a sense of defensiveness and there wasn’t a consensus among the party that we needed to stick with health care,” Woodhouse said in a recent interview with The Hill. 

“In 2007-2008, we knew health care would be a winning issue,” he added. But, by 2017, the party’s eyes had wandered to other matters, such as immigration, climate change and income inequality. 

“Even after we won the repeal fight, we had to do a lot of work … to create a greater consensus among Democrats they should stick with this issue,” Woodhouse said.

It was a “pitched battle to stop the Affordable Care Act from being repealed,” Woodhouse said, but the ultimate goal was to “make heath care an offensive weapon for Democrats again.”

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Woodhouse, a native of Raleigh, N.C., is no stranger to being in the trenches of political battles over health care. As president of Americans United for Change, he helped lay the foundation during the 2008 campaign for the future Obama administration to pass major health reform legislation.

He led the communications shop at the Democratic National Committee from 2008 to 2013, helping to craft the party’s message and political strategy.

Woodhouse is also famous for his contentious relationship with his brother, Dallas, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. The two were chronicled in the documentary “Woodhouse Divided.”

On health care, Woodhouse said Democrats’ sense of optimism about passing a bold progressive policy gave way to realism over the years.

In 2007, there was “every optimistic expectation we were going to be able make health care an important part of the election, win the election, and do something big early in the next two years,” Woodhouse said. 

The Affordable Care Act passed, but Republicans seized on it, calling it a hugely flawed case of government overreach, and their constant attacks led to Democrats losing control of both chambers of Congress.

“We took it on the chin,” Woodhouse said. “Republicans decided to make health care a political issue.”   

With the 2018 midterms in the rearview mirror, a rising progressive movement is pushing hard for a single-payer system. Some on the left say that backing “Medicare for all” legislation is a must for anyone who wants to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.  

Woodhouse said he would rather Democrats focus first on shoring up ObamaCare. He’s not against Medicare for all, but he wants to focus on the present, rather than the future. 

“We don’t think any sort of proposal on expanding coverage should be a litmus test,” Woodhouse said. “If you are for lowering costs, increasing coverage, you should be part of the discussion on how” to do it.

Republicans still control the Senate and the White House, and Woodhouse said he wants to draw attention to how the administration is trying to take health coverage from people, whether through cuts to Medicaid or cheap insurance plans that don’t have to cover pre-existing conditions. 

“We’re the first to say our party needs to have a conversation about how to get to universal coverage,” Woodhouse said. “It’s playing out on the campaign trail; there should be hearings in Congress. [But] what we should be doing right now is making health care more accessible and affordable, right now, for 2019.”

Woodhouse said he wants Democrats to remain on offense, rather than defending single-payer from GOP attacks.  

Republicans have pounced on Democrats’ division, highlighting former President Obama’s promise in the lead-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act that if people liked their health care plan they could keep it. Now, Republicans are warning that if single-payer passes, people will not be able to keep their private plans at all.

“We shouldn’t take our foot off the necks of Republicans who voted to repeal, we shouldn’t take our foot off the neck of Trump,” Woodhouse said. “The big things and small things, you’re going to need at least one more election to do that.”