Democrats try to go on offense on health law 

Posted: 8:02 pm Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

By Jamie Dupree

President Obama and Congressional Democrats kicked off a new public relations push on Tuesday to try to stem the tide of negative press about the Obama health law and its troubled rollout, looking to shift the focus to positive stories of people who have been helped and the details of the reform law.

“And that’s what’s gotten lost a little bit over the last couple of months,” President Obama said at the White House, flanked by people whom the White House said had benefited from the law.

“But what we also know is that after just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on January 1st, some for the very first time,” Mr. Obama added.

The public push was warmly embraced by Congressional Democrats, who have been on the defensive for weeks about the troubled rollout of healthcare.gov.

After a meeting with Obama Administration officials on Tuesday, several told reporters that it was time to more publicly trumpet the benefits of the law, as lawmakers expressed frustration that negative stories had gained so much traction in the health care debate.

One of those stories was on the front page of the Washington Post and New York Times this week, that the “back end” of healthcare.gov was still having big problems sending accurate enrollment data to health insurance companies.

As part of the PR push, the White House and other officials pushed back on a Washington Post story that said fully one-third of all signups were possibly tainted with data errors.

At the White House briefing, spokesman Jay Carney said “that statistic that was cited in a newspaper today does not reflect at all the picture of what is happening right now.”

On a conference call with reporters just a few minutes later, HHS spokeswoman Julie Bataille echoed Carney, saying “that does not reflect an accurate picture of what is happening right now.”

Note the use of the phrase “right now” – that made some wonder whether the story was right, but that the error rate had been reduced by recent software and hardware fixes – what we might refer to as a ‘non-denial denial.’

Those issues – and more – are certain to get the once-over from Republicans in the Congress on Wednesday, as there are four hearings scheduled in the House on the Obama health law:

+ House Oversight Committee – “The Roll Out of HealthCare.gov: The Limitations of Big Government”

+ Energy & Commerce Committee – this panel looks at changes from the health law dealing with the Medicare Advantage program.

+ The House Ways and Means Committee looks at “Challenges of the Affordable Care Act.”

+ The House Small Business Committee looks at “business aggregation rules” and how they impact small employers when it comes to health care.

No witnesses from the Obama Administration will be testifying; next week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be back before Congress for more questions.

Also of note on Tuesday was how both Jay Carney and the President were trying to take shots at Republicans, and draw them into a fight about what the GOP would do differently on health care reform.

“Senator McConnell to this day has yet to put on the table a single idea to provide affordable, quality health insurance to the American people,” Carney said in a jab at the Senate GOP leader.

In his remarks, the President also noted the repeated efforts at repeal by GOP lamwakers in the Congress, and made clear – that’s not going to happen on his watch.

“But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m President and I want everybody to be clear about that,” the President said to loud applause.