Democrats Tout Health Reform Achievements, GOP Lashes Back

As a number of provisions of the new health law took effect this week, supporters and opponents geared up for the midterm elections.

The Hill reports that as Republicans call for repeal of the law, the Obama administration is quick to push back. "Writing Thursday on the White House blog, Stephanie Cutter, the president's communications guru, noted that repealing the reforms would eliminate all the patient protections that just took effect. 'Just as we've started to hold insurance companies accountable,' Cutter wrote, 'a new Congressional Republican agenda wants to put them back in charge.'" Cutter was referring to a new platform Republicans revealed this week centered around repealing the health overhaul (Lillis, 9/23).

The Washington Post interviewed Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House's Office of Health Policy, who said: "I think [Republicans] would've done better to just say repeal rather than say they'll replace it with these things that don't make sense. We're trying to figure out what they mean when they say they'll continue to ban preexisting coverage exclusions. Their language [in their platform] says that insurers can't discriminate against people who had 'prior coverage.' That's the existing law in COBRA. If it's that, then it does nothing. But if they mean they'll ban preexisting conditions without asking everyone to get covered, CBO says that'll raise costs by 20 percent" (Klein, 9/23).

National Journal interviewed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said that Republicans don't have a better solution to the health care crisis in America. Sebelius said: "The debate that I hope we'll engage in the next six weeks in districts across the country, but then certainly in the new Congress, whatever the makeup is, 'What is the alternative?' I participated actively in the conversations for a year and a half in Congress, and what's striking to me was that there was never really an alternative put forward" (Brownstein, 9/25).

A Democratic pollster — Peter Hart — told Kaiser Health News Thursday that the White House needs to change its messaging on health care. Hart said: "I think the difficulty is that the White House has not really had a single strategy or good strategy. I think there was, sort of, the expectation in the White House that the day they signed the bill that everybody would come on board. And I think what they need to do is essentially go back to what I would say are the basics. 'Here's what the bill's about. Here's why it makes a difference. Here's why it's good for you and it's good for America.'" KHN has audio excerpts of the interview (Gold, 9/23).

Politico reports that Vice President Joe Biden on a conference call Thursday reminded his audience about the "death panel" claim made by Sarah Palin last year and "told senior citizens whose children who are doctors and nurses to ask their kids, 'Where have they seen the death panels being set up that have been talked about by some of the opponents?' … Later calling such claims 'scare tactics,' Biden told the seniors: 'These rumors are pure malarkey. They’re myths, manufactured for political gain on the eve of a gigantic election, where a lot of people with good reason are discontent'" (Negrin, 9/23).

And, in a separate story Politico reports that "Palin has launched 'Take Back the 20,' an online effort in which she asks supporters to join her 'in standing against those who stood with Obama and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi in voting for this disastrous bill.' The campaign focuses on Democrats from 20 districts John McCain won in 2008 – with Palin urging, 'Now we can vote against them.' On Palin's target list is a slate of vulnerable freshmen Democrats, including Florida Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey, Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, Pennsylvania Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper, and Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello" (Isenstadt, 9/23).

The Associated Press reports that former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats said the GOP should try to repeal the law, but "if the GOP lacks the votes to override the president's expected veto, then Republicans should instead turn to 'things that we can achieve'" like replacing or changing some of the law. Coats is seeking a return to the Senate against Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth (Elliot, 9/24).

 Hotline On Call/National Journal: Congressional insiders say that "neither party believes that repealing health care reform is a top argument for Republicans to make — at least not when compared to other arrows in their quiver." Other themes more likely to succeed, at least according to these insiders, are defending Social Security and Medicare for Democrats and reining in government spending for Republicans (Barnes, 9/23).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.