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On 6-Month Birthday of Health Law, Will Patient Protections Win It Some Love?

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Like it or not, Americans are getting new health insurance benefits this week.

Who among us would say no to free preventive care? To banishing lifetime limits on coverage? To making sure little kids with medical problems can get insurance, and big kids with no insurance -- up to age 26 – can stay on the family plan?

Democrats are betting the answer is nearly no one, so they're planning to spotlight the new protections in a series of events this week at the White House and on Capitol Hill. It seems like a no-brainer. These are some of the most appealing and least controversial elements of the Affordable Care Act, signed by President Barack Obama exactly six months ago Thursday. Drawing attention to them isn't going to reverse Democrats' electoral fortunes on a dime, but it can't hurt, right?

As a fan of the new law, I hope not. But who knows how this week of celebration will play? The most far-reaching aspects of health reform don't take effect until 2014, yet already Republicans are saying it has failed and insurance companies are saying (wrongly, the administration says) that it's the reason they are proposing big increases in premiums. Several polls show the public split evenly between approval and disapproval of the overall law. But it fares worse in other polls, which show majorities in favor of the GOP pledge to repeal or "defund" it if they take control of the House.

Aside from a few Democrats who are bragging in ads about their votes against the health bill, the party's general approach on the campaign trail is, talk about creating jobs and strengthening Social Security, and fight back hard if you get attacked on health care, but don't bring it up first. That's why this week of pro-activity, highlighting a section of the new law that Democrats call the patient's bill of rights, is a departure.

Obama's activities include a call Tuesday with faith leaders to discuss "the heart and compassion" of health reform, as reflected in the patient's bill of rights. On Wednesday he holds a White House event to highlight how the law already is improving the health care system, with a heavy focus on people who are benefitting from it. Obama also will meet with 40 state insurance commissioners to discuss their role in policing premium increases and enforcing the new consumer protections.

The observances won't be limited to the White House. The administration so far counts nearly 200 events by outside groups to celebrate the six-month anniversary of the landmark legislation (some are listed here). House and Senate Democrats will mark the date Thursday at an event with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Individual senators are arranging conference calls with groups in their home states, and House leaders will be circulating fact sheets about the new benefits to members and the public.

And then they'll go back to talking about the economy. The strategic consensus seems to be that it's great if the White House wants to take the lead on this, and maybe congressional candidates will benefit. Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said he doesn't expect members to put up TV ads touting health reform, "but it's helpful to have in the narrative these popular parts of bill."

Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who is working on several Senate races and more than a dozen House races this year, said Obama is right to highlight the patient protections. They poll "incredibly well," he said, and some people might change their views of the new law if they learn they have nothing to fear from it or that it might be helpful to them.

He said his research also shows that while supporting the new law might be a negative for Democrats, Republicans are vulnerable to the counterargument that they stood with the insurance industry and didn't want reforms, such as those in the patient's bill of rights. "Democrats have the ability to push back . . . with very strong contrasts," Anzalone said. "You might see that dynamic. You might see it in advertising. Some of these guys are going to defend themselves."

The White House and to some extent congressional Democrats already are fighting back hard. This month, writing on the White House blog, spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter has taken aim twice at GOP plans to defund the Affordable Care Act. She also wrote that the law was not responsible for "unjust" premium increases -- that they were planned long before it was passed. She said any increases due to the act would be "minimal" -- 1 to 2 percent -- and largely offset by free preventive services and other benefits.

The chairmen of the Senate Finance and Commerce committees, Max Baucus and Jay Rockefeller, reiterated those numbers Monday in a letter to the five largest insurance companies and warned they would get on the case of any insurer that blames rising premiums on the new law. "This level of misinformation is not acceptable," the pair wrote. They promised to "closely examine any potentially misleading communications to consumers."

The president himself talked about health reform throughout the day Monday. "If your child, heaven forbid, had a pre-existing condition, before I took office you were out of luck in terms of being able to get health insurance for that child. Now insurance companies have to give you health insurance for that child. And by the way, that health insurance company can't drop you if you get sick," he said during a midday town meeting on CNBC.

Later, he brought up the law repeatedly, and proudly, at a series of fundraising events for Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democrats' Senate nominee in Pennsylvania: The protections that stop insurance companies "from jacking up your premiums at will or denying you coverage because you get sick." . . . The woman who had thanked him that day because "I've got two young people graduating from college. My children right now, they don't have health insurance, but because of your bill, they're going to be able to stay on my health insurance until they're 26 years old.". . . The guarantees that adults and children with pre-existing conditions can still get insurance coverage "because in a country as wealthy as ours, with the values that we have, nobody should go bankrupt just because they get sick."

The litany is not going to change the minds of people who believe the government shouldn't be so involved in health care, who believe the law won't keep costs down, who are allergic to the idea of requiring almost everyone to buy health insurance (a 2014 provision that, as it happens, was sought by the insurance industry on the theory that a raft of new, healthier, cheaper-to-cover customers would offset the cost of lifting all those coverage caps and accepting people with pre-existing medical problems).

The most effective counterweight to all of that is reality -- how the new law affects real people and real life. That's the standard by which people judge the economy and the president who presides over it. Unfortunately, that standard won't be available on the health front until about 2015.

There is always the chance that elevating the issue will inflame the opposition. But still, I hope Obama keeps at his health advocacy. It might jolt his sleeping base awake, perhaps even reduce negative perceptions of the new law a bit among some who are unsure about it. And really, what's the choice? As Anzalone put it, "If you have an issue like this, you have to own it."

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Filed Under: Analysis

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Just how is it that more costly, more intrusive, and less discretionary health care should appeal to me Jill? If I like my old plan, can I keep it? No. We have been lied to.

September 22 2010 at 10:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

An amazing comparison is Lyndon Johnsons "great society" during the Vietnam War. Trying to push a social program while attempting to win a war just doesnt work...especially when the social program is unpopular and probably not even constitutional.

September 22 2010 at 11:12 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

If you think about it, mandatory "free" screening exams are a service we are forced to buy regardless of the medical indications of a particular patient. There are 2700 pages of additional headaches to address in Obamacare. Would you want Shirley Sherrod on your treatment panel?

September 22 2010 at 9:20 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

After reading some of the comments, I'm going to say this for the one hundredth time. INSURANCE COMPANIES CANNOT DROP YOU BECAUSE YOU GET SICK!!! It is illegal. It has never happened. Once you have health insurance, you cannot be "dropped" unless you stop paying your premium. That is the ONLY way an insurance company can stop covering you. Something else you people may want to google since you're so in love with Obamacare. Yes, the new law says that on individual health plans, children under 19 MUST be covered, no matter how sick they may be. Well, guess what the only two individual health carriers in the state of KY have done (Humana and Anthem BCBS)......In the last 2 weeks they have BOTH announced that they will STOP SELLING ALL POLICIES TO PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF 19. The feds tried to force something down their throats and the insurance companies said "okay, we'll just stop selling to that segment of the population". Think I'm kidding....look it up. Nice job, Mr. Obama.

September 22 2010 at 8:25 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

What this administration is neatly doing in slow motion is moving us from a "demand" economy to a "command" economy. In a nut shell, Forcing the population to take government health care is an example of a command economy. Or the government forcing the bondholders of Chrysler and GM to take a secondary position to the UAW, This is where the government takes an ever increasingly dominate position and control of the nations economy. They COMMAND you to go along with their decisions and laws What we have ,or maybe more correctly had is/was a "demand" economy ,where the private and government both share in the economy.examples the Military needs aircraft so they buy them from Boeing ,or Gulfstream..etc. Or a government needs teachers, so they hire some. In a nut shell ,there is a demand but no sector, private or government dominates....all contribute. Obama is slowly removing the private sectors ability to maintain a balance. Oh ,this, by the way, is only one step removed from socialism....welcome to the 21st century in America.

September 21 2010 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sysaphus71's comment

What you describe is almost the definition of facism. Government control of private business by a dictatorship. While technically we don't have a dictatorship we do have Czars who got their power with no nomination, vetting, or confirmation processes. We have a president who pushes legislation through to passage when the voters clearly do not support the bills. Obama also insults the judiciary. The checks and balances are almost non-existent. You have to have this type of audacity to be a dictator. The worst part of this equation is government control of business. If you don't like the smell post this post because of the word "facism," then look up the definition and explain where it it not just like facism. Facists don't have to wear swastikas.

September 22 2010 at 8:04 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

With all of the biggest employers in America vowing to pay the fine leaving 10's of millions without health insurance as a benifit , and 500 billion being stripped from Medicare to help finance this much love will there be once the mainstream media is forced to tell the facts about this Bill?

September 21 2010 at 12:42 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply

..."and big kids with no insurance -- "up to age 26" – can stay on the family plan? ***** What ever happened to those days when upon reaching the age of Eighteen (18) for young males, and Twenty-one (21) for females, you either: (1). Went to college; (2). Got a job; (3). Got married and MOVED OUT! or (4). Joined the MILITARY! Yes- that's how it was back in the '50s and '60s.

September 21 2010 at 11:11 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to theherd1969's comment
Gail Dukes

Many insurance companies have insurance that covers children up to the age of 24 if they are a full time college student. Most of them live on or close by campus. Most of them have summer jobs. All of this has been done without any HealthPlan!

September 21 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply

In the 50s and 60s there were jobs. Obama,Pelosi, Reid, Summers, Romer,Geithner, and Orszag have corrected that.

September 22 2010 at 10:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

define "free", as in free preventative care. if that works let's opt for free food or free housing. oh thats right democrats do that already, except free to you means more taxes for those of us that get off our ass and go to work everyday. free, what a concept. free has a different meaning for different americans.

September 21 2010 at 10:45 AM Report abuse +21 rate up rate down Reply

Ms Lawrence..............what the American people understand, is, the Obama admin is putting the few good things up front in order to sway public opinion, and saving the bad news until after the 2012 election. As it is right now, insurance premiums are skyrocketing because the insurance companies, who have the resources to READ THE ENTIRE HEALTHCARE BILL and determine what it is going to do to the industry down the road, are raising premiums now to buffer the impact down the road. The American people understand the costs will rise considerably, and the care will diminish in tandem. Instead of visiting your doctor, you will be relegated to speaking with 3 month certified "healthcare" workers. As time goes on, probably the only time you will see a REAL doctor will be when it is just about time to sign the death certificate.

September 21 2010 at 10:41 AM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
Big John

I want them to repeal the whole thing, then BC/BS who I have insurance with can raise my premiums 20% to 30% a year and double them like they did from 2000-2007. They can also cancel me anytime they want and not pay any of my claims due to pre-existing conditions as well as cap my payments so I can loose all I have worked for by whole life. This is a free country and if I want to be screwed by large corporations then that is my right!

September 21 2010 at 10:40 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Big John's comment

Big John: I sell health insurance for a living. Yes, the rate increases may suck. But you CANNOT be canceled at any time. ONLY reason they can cancel you is for NOT paying your premiums. If you've been covered for 12 months (without a 63-day break in coverage), then there is NO pre-existing exclusion on your policy (federal law). The capped payments you refer to are most likely AT LEAST $2 million. And most plans have a lifetime max of $5-7 million. Not too shabby. 99.9999% of people NEVER reach their lifetime benefit max, so removing this cap (touted as such as great idea) really has a microscopic benefit.

September 22 2010 at 9:24 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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