White House plans for a health care messaging blitz ahead of Obamacare’s rollout have been overshadowed by the president’s call to strike Syria, distracting the administration from its plan to focus attention on a litany of domestic issues.
Obamacare was supposed to get its time in the limelight over these next few weeks, ahead of October’s open enrollment launch for the healthcare law’s insurance exchanges.
The White House is initiating an all-hands-on-deck approach to selling the polarizing overhaul, with President Obama, Cabinet members and high-level surrogates expected to talk up the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in coming weeks.
But a high-profile speech on Wednesday from former President Bill Clinton, who Obama once dubbed his “Secretary of Explaining Stuff,” to tout the healthcare law’s reform largely went unnoticed as lawmakers held contentious hearings on possible military action against Syria.
Some Democrats, however, downplayed the lack of attention on the health law.
“Politically speaking, it’s not the worst thing,” a veteran Democratic strategist, given anonymity to speak candidly about Obamacare, said. “Recently, the focus on health care has done more harm than good. I’m highly skeptical that a new PR blitz, even from the likes of President Clinton, will do much."
Many Democrats are concerned over polls which show the public does not understand many key aspects of the law and fear that a troubled rollout could hurt them in 2014.
The administration recently delayed until 2015 both the requirement for most employers to provide health insurance plans for their workers and the cap on out-of-pocket costs on medical care. Both postponements were seen as major gifts to Republicans who have vowed to make the health law a central issue in the 2014 midterm elections and push for efforts to repeal the law.
Obama’s surrogates argue that as the public learns more about the health care reforms, they will grow more appreciative of the president’s signature legislative achievement.
For Obamacare to succeed, younger, healthier people will have to sign up for the program. Without enough consumers paying into the system, premiums for seniors and sicker individuals will not go down as promised by the president.
GOP leaders, though, welcome any talk about Obamacare, pointing to polling data that shows a majority of Americans remain suspicious of the most comprehensive overhaul to the health care system since Medicare was created in 1965.
Still, the administration is sticking to its plan to inundate the public with details about popular provisions of the healthcare law, which they say have been overshadowed by the constant Republican barrage against the initiative.
“I have agreed to give this talk today because I am still amazed at how much misunderstanding there is about the current system of health care, how it works, how it compares with what other people in other countries pay for health care and what kind of results they get and what changes are actually occurring now and are going to occur in the future,” Clinton said from his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. on Wednesday.
Other Democrats said the administration should focus on implementing the foundation for the complicated law rather than worry about a news cycle largely devoted to foreign affairs.
“Obviously, Syria is taking up a lot of news bandwidth right now,” Democratic pollster Margie Omero said. “But what’s going to change public opinion is seeing [Obamacare] implemented, testing it, seeing how it works for their friends and family. The effort to sign people up for Obamacare is happening on the ground.”
For their part, Republicans are pressing their efforts to bolster opposition to the health care law. The Republican National Committee Wednesday unveiled a new website devoted to tracking stories they say will showcase soaring health care premiums.
“With less than a month to go before this disastrous law takes full effect,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said, “Democrats bear sole responsibility for Obamacare’s costs.”