WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans attacked Obamacare with new ferocity but sometimes questionable veracity Thursday, energized by a campaign triumph in Florida that gave health care issues their first airing of the election year.
"We're reminded this week that the American people are still concerned about the president's health care law," House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference where he also challenged Obama to roll back pending cuts for private Medicare coverage plans.
Yet in their zeal to capitalize politically, some Republicans made accusations that were unprovable or even untrue.
Among them was a claim by Boehner that Obamacare had resulted in fewer people having health insurance coverage than before the law was passed. "I believe that to be the case," he said, citing estimates that 6 million Americans have had their insurance canceled in recent months as opposed to administration claims that 4.2 million have signed up for coverage.
Despite Boehner's statement, Census Bureau figures show that the number of insured has risen from 255.3 million in 2009, the year before the law was passed, to 263.2 million in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available on the agency's website. That represents an increase of nearly 8 million individuals covered by insurance.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, a member of the House GOP leadership, said the administration had made a unilateral change earlier this month that would "essentially delay the individual mandate for the remainder of the year."
The mandate is a requirement for most individuals to purchase health coverage or pay a penalty, and is one of the parts of Obamacare that Republicans object to most strenuously.
Officials at the Health and Human Services Department said that contrary to claims by McMorris Rodgers and others, a change was made in December, not in the past few days. They said it was designed to permit a limited number of individuals to seek a hardship exemption from payment of the penalty for non-compliance.
The charges came as Republicans reaped the fruits of their victory in Tuesday's election, swearing in Rep. David Jolly as the newest member of Congress in place of the late Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young. Jolly won a narrow victory after a race in which the political parties and outside groups spent millions of dollars in television advertising, much of it relating to Obamacare and Medicare.
Democrats applauded politely as he took the oath of office on the House floor, then unleashed a scathing political attack reminiscent of the final days of a heated campaign. "Jolly will fit right in with the Medicare-dismantling, health care-repealing, big oil-subsidizing, insurance company-coddling congressional Republicans," said a statement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Other Republicans accused the administration Thursday of acting unilaterally to ease its impact on individuals and insurance companies alike and thus make it more tolerable.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Obama was "cherry-picking" to exempt payments the law makes to insurors from across-the-board spending cuts designed to control deficits.
Administration officials confirmed that they had decided to exempt $8 billion in payments from the cuts, even though similar funds were subject to curtailment last year.
Additionally, more than two dozen Republican senators accused the administration of signing off on a regulation that would "exempt some self-insured health plans, such as those commonly run by unions," from a fee contained in the law for 2015 and 2016.
The blizzard of charges came as House Republicans readied yet another in a series of attempts to repeal, roll back or dismantle the health care law, arranging a vote for Friday on a measure to eliminate the so-called individual mandate.
The same measure would revise the system for paying doctors and others who provide care for Medicare patients, ending a stop-gap system in which reimbursement levels are often threatened with cuts until Congress can pass a short-term fix.
The bill will mark the 51st since Republicans won control of the House a little more than two years ago that they have held a vote to undo part or all of Obamacare.
While the bill is certain to clear the House, GOP officials hope to pressure individual Democratic lawmakers to support it, and thus declare their political independence from the controversial health care law as their own re-election campaigns approach.
Boehner also couched his challenge to Obama to rescind pending cuts to private Medicare plans in terms of a recent policy reversal.
In that case, he said that in the face of strong bipartisan opposition, the administration dropped plans to limit Medicare coverage of brand-name medicines in three areas.
"There is similar bipartisan opposition to the law's looming changes to Medicare Advantage, and the president should act in a similar fashion," he said. The private plans have become increasingly popular in recent years, about one-third of all beneficiaries are now enrolled in one.
Critics say many companies that offer the plans receive more money from the government per customer than it costs to cover someone under traditional Medicare. Even if the cuts are enacted, insurors are barred from reducing benefits that are guaranteed by law to all Medicare beneficiaries, meaning the companies must find savings elsewhere.