Health Care

Obama Tries To Sell Health Care, Again

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Thursday marks six months since the passage of the president's health care overhaul measure. By now, it was supposed to be popular. Not so far.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.


And Im David Greene.

Today, President Obama made an appearance in a backyard in Falls Church, Virginia. Alongside him was a group of Americans whove been helped by the new health care law. Some benefits of that law have already kicked-in, including a few this week.

But as NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, the political benefits the White House was hoping for have yet to materialize.

MARA LIASSON: President Obama is trying once again to convince Americans that there are a lot of benefits for them in the health care law he signed six months ago. Starting tomorrow, he said, Americans will have...

President BARACK OBAMA: The most important patients' bill of rights that we've ever seen in our history. And let me just tick-off some of the things that are...

LIASSON: The things include a lot of new requirements for insurers. They must allow young people up to age 26 to remain on their parents' policies. They can no longer charge co-payments for preventive care; impose lifetime limits on coverage or deny coverage to children with pre-exiting conditions. Small businesses can now get tax credits for covering their employees. And seniors are getting rebate checks for prescription drugs.

President OBAMA: All these things are designed not have government more involved in health care. They're designed to make sure that you have basic protections in your interactions with your insurance company; that you're getting what you paid for.

LIASSON: The president has really struggled to get this message across, something he acknowledged today.

President OBAMA: One of the toughest things about this health care debate was -and sometimes I fault myself for not having been able to make the case more clearly to the country...

LIASSON: When the law was passed it was controversial, but the White House assumed once people got to know what was in the bill it would get more popular. But that turned out to be a big miscalculation.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's president Drew Altman has been tracking public opinion and the Health Care Law.

Dr. DREW ALTMAN (President, Kaiser Family Foundation): The elements of the legislation, and especially the early deliverables in the law, are actually very popular with people. But the other side has learned that if they use the law as a symbol of whats wrong with Washington, whats wrong with government -that works, too.

LIASSON: The argument against the bill - that it's too expensive, too intrusive and it won't control costs - is swaying voters. And especially in a bad economy, it fits perfectly into an anti-big-government narrative.

One of the problems is that right now, insurers in a lot of states are raising premiums. And whether it's true or not, the insurance companies are blaming the price hikes on the new law. And, says Altman, thats a political problem for the White House, too.

Dr. ALTMAN: That's a big challenge because we have a period of time when people's premiums are going to continue to go up, cost sharing and health insurance is going to continue to go up, too. And people will be saying, well, you know, I heard that there was this big health reform law and when is that going to help me? And it's just a tough challenge because health care costs are going to continue to go up.

LIASSON: And thats because the parts of the law that would cover everyone, and the subsidies and reforms that would make coverage less costly, dont go into effect until 2014. And right now, very few people believe cost control will ever happen. That means the law will probably continue to be controversial, at least until the broader benefits go into effect four years from now.

Thats way too late to help Democrats running for election this year. And Democrats in Congress who were assured their vote for the law would help them this fall are not campaigning on it. Among those in competitive races, few Democrats have run ads touting their yes votes on health care.

But there are plenty of ads like this one, by Virginia Democrat Glenn Nye, proudly proclaiming that he, quote, "stood up" to his own party leaders and voted no.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Representative GLENN NYE (Democrat, Virginia): Here are the facts: I voted against the health care bill because it cost too much. I voted against...

LIASSON: Republicans, meanwhile, are promising to repeal the law if they are in the majority next year. Or, if they can't get rid of it outright, they say theyll withhold funding for key parts of its implementation.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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