Health Care Overhaul Becomes Campaign Weapon

Since it was signed by President Obama and became law six months ago, a funny thing has happened to the health care overhaul: It's lost support among the public.

Many polls now show more people oppose it than are in favor — and that's having an impact on political races.

Zeroing In On Health Care

Watch ads from Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott (top) and the 60 Plus Association that go after Democrats for supporting the health care overhaul.

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In Florida, the health care overhaul was a hot issue even before the campaign season began. And it helped launch Rick Scott, the Republican nominee for governor, into politics.

A former head of the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, Scott founded a group that ran ads opposing the president's plan. Now, he's using health care to attack his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink.

"Sink backed the government health care takeover, cutting $500 billion from Medicare," one ad says.

Health care is also playing a big role in some Florida congressional races where Democrats are considered vulnerable.

The 60 Plus Association, a Virginia-based group that bills itself as a conservative alternative to AARP, is running ads in at least three Florida districts held by Democrats, including Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson.

"Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas are putting Nancy Pelosi's liberal agenda ahead of Florida's seniors," one ad says. "They supported Pelosi's health care bill, which cuts $500 billion from Medicare."

Seniors' Concerns

Polls show that health care actually is not high on the list of voters' concerns in Florida — trailing the economy, jobs, taxes, education and the cost of housing.

But candidates like Marco Rubio, the Tea-Party-backed Republican running for Senate, cite it as another case of a government out of touch with the voters.

"They told us when they passed this bill that it wouldn't cost anybody their existing coverage," he said during a recent Senate debate. "And now we know that as many as 60 percent of Americans may lose their existing coverage. They told us that this bill would help Medicare, make Medicare more solvent. We now know that that's not true. They didn't tell us it would raise taxes either."

Like much of the criticism leveled at the president's health care plan in this election year, Rubio's charges aren't always grounded in the facts. The Congressional Budget Office says the health care overhaul will save money — not force the government to raise taxes. And the 60 percent figure Rubio cites is based on a three-year-old Heritage Foundation study of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which expands federal Medicaid coverage to children. But that has little to do with the federal health care overhaul.

Still, concerns about the plan — and how it will affect Medicare — are key to efforts to influence one of Florida’s largest and most politically active voting blocs: senior citizens.

"A lot of seniors are worried that this health care reform doesn't really include much for them," says Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. "I mean, most of them were pretty comfortable where they're at. And now, they're worried because they think — and it may or may not come to pass — but they think that this health care reform act is going to cause them to have cuts in their Medicare coverage."

A poll recently conducted for The Associated Press by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Stanford University found there's a lot of misinformation about health care out there. More than half of those polled mistakenly believe the overhaul will raise taxes. A quarter wrongly believe the law sets up "death panels."

Changing Opinions

Whatever the reason, the health care overhaul has lost support among people like Dennis Weckenman, a 66-year-old Republican from Boca Raton. He supported the overhaul when it became law earlier this year. But now, he thinks it should be repealed.

What changed? "I think the amount of money that was being spent and the hidden items in there that we really didn't know about until the whole thing came to fruition," Weckenman says. "Then you start reading about, well, this isn't true and that isn't true. I think that was it."

Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Orlando who's been an outspoken advocate of the overhaul, says he thinks health care is still a good issue for Democrats.

"The bill does good things for people, whether you have private insurance, whether you're covered by the government or whether you have no coverage at all. This bill makes your life better," he says. "I'm perfectly willing to run on things that makes people's lives better. I think that's a good platform to run on."

The challenge for Grayson and other Democrats is making sure voters believe that the new health care law will indeed make their lives better.

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