Healthcare reform gets starring role at Democratic convention
Reform law gets big pre-election push
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.
Biden, left, and Obama touted the continued benefits of the Affordable Care Act if they are re-elected in November.