Health­care re­form gets star­ring role at Demo­cratic con­ven­tion

Re­form law gets big pre-elec­tion push

Modern Healthcare - - FRONT PAGE - Rich Daly

Democrats used their pres­i­den­tial con­ven­tion to launch the largest and most emo­tional sales pitch for the health­care over­haul since it was en­acted two years ago. And they are bet­ting sim­i­lar per­sonal pitches by in­di­vid­ual Democrats in the com­ing weeks will help re-elect the name­sake of “Oba­macare.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama head­lined the ef­fort to pro­mote the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act dur­ing his nom­i­na­tion ac­cep­tance speech at the 2012 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

“You’re the rea­son there is a lit­tle girl with a heart dis­or­der in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs be­cause an in­sur­ance com­pany can’t limit her cov­er­age,” he said about the law’s pop­u­lar ban on life­time lim­its. “You did that.”

Be­fore the pres­i­dent spoke, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den at­tacked Repub­li­can as­ser­tions that their changes were needed to pro­tect the long-term sol­vency of Medi­care.

“But what they didn’t tell you is that their plan would im­me­di­ately cut ben­e­fits to more than 30 mil­lion se­niors al­ready on Medi­care,” Bi­den said about the elim­i­na­tion of new ben­e­fits added by the Af­ford­able Care Act.

He also dis­par­aged the Repub­li­can ticket’s pro­posal to add a sub­si­dized pri­vate in­sur­ance op­tion to Medi­care as “voucher­care.”

The week fea­tured nu­mer­ous pre­sen­ta­tions, cam­paign videos and prime time tele­vised ap­peals that emo­tion­ally high­lighted var­i­ous ben­e­fits al­ready im­ple­mented and yet to come through the law. Those sto­ries dis­tilled the com­plex and of­ten con­tro­ver­sial law into de­scrip­tions of how spe­cific pro­vi­sions would help an in­di­vid­ual in his or her own life. For in­stance, Katherine Archuleta, po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for the Obama cam­paign, told a con­ven­tion gath­er­ing of party ac­tivists how re­lieved she was when the U.S. Supreme Court up­held the law be­cause its pro­vi­sions al­lowed her 19-year-old daugh­ter re­cov­er­ing from can­cer to stay on her in­sur­ance.

The per­sonal sto­ries of ben­e­fits from the law told throughout the week by lead­ers of the Obama cam­paign and ad­min­is­tra­tion aimed to demon­strate the power of that emo­tional ap­peal and show how in­di­vid­ual Democrats could pro­mote the law—and the pres­i­dent who signed it— dur­ing the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign. Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz (D-Fla.), chair­woman of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, de­scribed her ter­ror of re­ceiv­ing her di­ag­no­sis of breast can­cer sev­eral years ago.

“I don’t care how strong a woman you are—that mo­ment is ter­ri­fy­ing,” she said. “And in Amer­ica, no one should have to go through it with­out health in­sur­ance.”

Bas­ing the pres­i­dent’s re-elec­tion on an ap­peal—per­son­al­ized or oth­er­wise—to the health­care law is a gam­ble be­cause it con­tin­ues to face op­po­si­tion from plu­ral­i­ties to ma­jori­ties of the pub­lic in most na­tional sur­veys. It’s a pop­u­lar­ity deficit that con­tin­ues to puz­zle Democrats.

“Our health­care re­form at home polls in the 60% or 70% ap­proval range and the Af­ford­able Care Act at home polls about 50-50, and they’re the same thing, ” Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Patrick, a Demo­crat, told re­porters. “So there’s a lot of work to do to ex­plain to the na­tion how many ben­e­fits, how af­ford­able, how sen­si­ble, how good this is.”

But Democrats said they have lit­tle choice be­cause they ex­pect Obama’s much higher ad spend­ing in re­cent months to be swamped by com­mer­cials sup­port­ing Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign.

“We’re never go­ing to match them dol­lar for dol­lar on the air­waves,” HHS Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius told a group of el­derly party ac­tivists last week. “The way we match them is through peo­ple on the streets, through phone calls, through Face­book, through outreach.”

Democrats are us­ing the same pre­dom­i­nantly emo­tional ap­proach to at­tack Rom­ney’s health­care plans, which in­clude a vow to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act and re­place it with more mar­ket-based ap­proaches.

For in­stance, Carol Berman, a se­nior from the swing state of Florida, told at­ten­dees and a na­tional tele­vi­sion au­di­ence that she feared the Republicans’ pro­posal to add an in­sur­ance sub­sidy com­po­nent to Medi­care, cit­ing doubts that it would cover spi­ral­ing health­care costs.

Republicans also are mak­ing emo­tional ap­peals on health­care, in­clud­ing a slate of ads and robo­calls re­leased in Au­gust that blasted the health­care law for cut­ting $716 bil­lion from Medi­care over the com­ing decade even as it ex­panded the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. One recorded call said Democrats sup­port a health­care law that will “cut Medi­care to pay for their na­tional health­care ex­per­i­ment.”

Such at­tacks ob­vi­ously con­cern Democrats, who blamed their his­toric 2010 con­gres­sional losses on their fail­ure to ob­tain pub­lic sup­port for the law. Party lead­ers in­structed ac­tivists gath­er­ing in Char­lotte, N.C., last week to avoid de­scrib­ing any of the health­care pro­grams as part of the gov­ern­ment. Sup­port­ers also were coached to frame the Medi­care cuts as ex­tend­ing the pro­gram’s sol­vency by re­duc­ing over­pay­ments to in­sur­ers and fight­ing fraud.

Mean­while, some ex­perts say many of the Democrats’ crit­i­cisms against the Repub­li­can health­care plans are ei­ther ques­tion­able or omit in­for­ma­tion.

For in­stance, FactCheck.org, a project of the An­nen­berg Pub­lic Pol­icy Cen­ter, crit­i­cized the re­peated as­ser­tion that Rom­ney’s Medi­care changes would cut ben­e­fits for Medi­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Rom­ney’s plan would elim­i­nate new Medi­care pre­ven­tive-care cov­er­age un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act but would not cut “any of the tra­di­tional ben­e­fits pro­vided by Medi­care,” the project said.

AP PHOTO

Bi­den, left, and Obama touted the con­tin­ued ben­e­fits of the Af­ford­able Care Act if they are re-elected in Novem­ber.

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