Health law fight reignites

With a key Supreme Court rul­ing loom­ing, Obama de­fends the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Noam N. Levey noam.levey@la­times.com

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Obama reen­tered the po­lit­i­cal battle over health­care Tues­day, de­liv­er­ing an ex­tended de­fense of the Af­ford­able Care Act as the Supreme Court pre­pares to is­sue its rul­ing on a case that could strip away health in­sur­ance from mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

“It seems so cyn­i­cal to want to take cov­er­age away from mil­lions of peo­ple,” Obama said, tak­ing a swipe at the Repub­li­cans who have backed the lat­est legal chal­lenge to the law, “to take care away from peo­ple who need it the most, to pun­ish mil­lions with higher costs of care and un­ravel what’s now been wo­ven into the fab­ric of Amer­ica.”

Obama’s ad­dress, to a gath­er­ing of hos­pi­tal lead­ers from the Catholic Health Assn., comes at a piv­otal mo­ment as his sig­na­ture do­mes­tic achieve­ment faces its gravest threat since be­ing nar­rowly up­held by the Supreme Court three years ago.

The cur­rent legal chal­lenge brought by con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists ar­gues that a strict read­ing of the statute makes in­sur­ance sub­si­dies in the law avail­able only in states that es­tab­lished their own in­sur­ance mar­ket­places through the law.

That would strip sub­si­dies from res­i­dents of more than 30 states that rely on the fed­eral Health­Care.gov mar­ket­place. More than 6 mil­lion peo­ple could lose cov­er­age al­most im­me­di­ately, with mil­lions more ex­pected to fol­low as in­sur­ance mar­kets col­lapse in many states.

The rul­ing, ex­pected this month, is likely to reignite a fierce na­tional po­lit­i­cal battle over health­care that had been pe­ter­ing out in many places as more Amer­i­cans got cov­er­age and GOP law- mak­ers looked to move on to other is­sues.

The pres­i­dent en­ters the re­newed health­care de­bate in a stronger po­si­tion than at any time since he signed the law in 2010. Although prob­lems with the law persist and some con­sumers who ben­e­fited from the old sys­tem that al­lowed in­sur­ers to deny cov­er­age to sick peo­ple have seen pre­mi­ums rise, mil­lions more have gained cov­er­age.

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, mean­while, now face the prospect of be­ing blamed for mas­sive dis­rup­tions caused by a legal case they cham­pi­oned.

Many are al­ready step­ping up their crit­i­cism of the law

Within hours of Obama’s speech Tues­day, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who chairs the Se­nate Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence, took to the Se­nate floor to ar­gue the health law was “un­rav­el­ing.”

“The dis­cus­sion about Oba­macare’s suc­cess or fail­ure is no longer the­o­ret­i­cal,” Thune said, cit­ing re­ports of ris­ing pre­mi­ums around the coun­try and the on­go­ing strug­gles of some states to op­er­ate their new in­sur­ance mar­ket­places.

“The ev­i­dence is in, and it shows that the pres­i­dent’s health­care law is bro­ken. It’s time to re­peal Oba­macare and re­place it with real health­care re­forms that will ac­tu­ally drive down costs,” Thune said.

Speak­ing on a ra­dio pro­gram in Ken­tucky, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) re­peated his claim that the law is the “sin­gle worst piece of leg­is­la­tion passed in our coun­try in the last half-cen­tury.”

Repub­li­cans largely won the po­lit­i­cal battle over the Af­ford­able Care Act, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on its con­tro­ver­sial pas­sage and flawed roll­out to win sweep­ing vic­to­ries in the 2010 and 2014 con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions.

Democrats, mean­while, be­moaned their pres­i­dent’s in­abil­ity to use his rhetor­i­cal skills to rally public opin­ion be­hind the health­care law.

To­day, how­ever, the law is no longer an ab­stract prom­ise.

With mil­lions gain­ing cov­er­age, polls show a small but mea­sur­able uptick in public sup­port. Those hold­ing a fa­vor­able view of the law slightly out­num­bered those view­ing the law un­fa­vor­ably in an April na­tional track­ing poll by the Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. That is the first time that hap­pened since Novem­ber 2012, just af­ter Obama’s re­elec­tion.

The law is now widely cred­ited by in­de­pen­dent analy­ses with driv­ing the largest decline in the na­tion’s unin­sured rate in at least half a cen­tury. Rand Corp. re­ported last month that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans with­out cov­er­age de­clined by nearly 17 mil­lion since the law’s cov­er­age ex­pan­sion be­gan last year.

And the ris­ing in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums cited by Thune and oth­ers are be­ing fu­eled in part by un­cer­tainty over the legal chal­lenge backed by the GOP.

Obama ticked off in­di­ca­tors of progress Tues­day, not­ing the in­sur­ance ex­pan­sion, the new pro­tec­tions for Amer­i­cans with pre­ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions, the slow­down in health­care spend­ing and the sur­veys that show large ma­jori­ties of peo­ple sat­is­fied with the new cov­er­age they have through the law.

Repub­li­cans, mean­while, still haven’t ad­vanced any al­ter­na­tive to the Af­ford­able Care Act. McConnell re­fused Mon­day to dis­cuss what the GOP would do if the Supreme Court up­holds the chal­lenge.

“We’ll let you know depend­ing upon the out­come of the de­ci­sion,” he said when pressed by the host of the “Joe El­liott Show” on WGTK-AM (970) in Louisville, not­ing only: “We’ll have a plan that we think makes sense for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Michael Reynolds Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

PRES­I­DENT OBAMA greets Sis­ter Carol Kee­han, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Catholic Health Assn., be­fore his ad­dress tout­ing his health­care law’s suc­cesses.

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