Administration switches on O-Care from defense to attack
By Justin Sink and Elise Viebeck - 12/04/13 06:00 AM EST
The White House has shifted from defense to offense on ObamaCare, adopting a much sharper tone with the media while chastising Republicans as wanting to revert to the troubled policies of the past.
The aggressive tactics suggest the White House now sees the best defense of the healthcare law as a swift attack against its critics.
It follows weeks in which the administration was accused of reacting passively, frustrating congressional Democrats worried ObamaCare will cost them their jobs in next year’s midterms.
The change in strategy crystallized Tuesday as President Obama publicly defended his law at an event the White House openly acknowledged was designed to reboot the narrative.
“Our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit,” Obama told supporters gathered at the White House.
“Now that the website’s working for the vast majority of people, we need to make sure that folks refocus on what’s at stake here,” said Obama, who spoke days after the administration said it had largely fixed HealthCare.gov, something that has boosted the administration’s confidence.
In the coming days, Obama and other officials plan to speak regularly about what they argue are the concrete benefits of the law, including insurance plans mandating free preventive care, curbed growth in healthcare costs and insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
After being bludgeoned for weeks with negative headlines and stories about the problems of HealthCare.gov, White House and administrative officials have taken a notably sharper tone with journalists covering implementation of the law.
While a few weeks ago, press aides were admitting privately and publicly that the technical problems plaguing the website were fair to criticize, administration flacks are now aggressively fighting back against news stories, opinion pieces and even messages on Twitter that it sees as inaccurate or unfair.
The pushback extends to the daily call conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which on Monday included testy exchanges with reporters about the healthcare website.
So called “strike teams” of congressional leaders in the House and Senate have been assembled to help disseminate the administration’s daily messaging.
According to a report by BuzzFeed, more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers are holding daily phone calls with administration officials to coordinate efforts to push back on negative headlines.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) launched a website Tuesday challenging GOP leaders to detail a replacement for ObamaCare.
Organizing for Action (OFA), the political group born from the president’s reelection campaign, also announced a “drumbeat campaign” complete with virtual countdown clocks and Web advertisements designed to drive consumers to the ObamaCare website.
Republicans are happy to see the White House focusing on a law that polls show is unpopular. They think the focus could help them win back the Senate next year.
Aides to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued that House Democrats did not schedule any ObamaCare-related events throughout the day.
“Despite the announcement of a new ‘coordinated’ effort to sell ObamaCare, while the president moseyed off the start line, congressional Democrats stayed quietly behind,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.
The administration is touting statistics that help its case, such as the million visitors to HealthCare.gov on Monday. But it is refusing to hand out other numbers, like the overall error rate for information transmitted from HealthCare.gov to insurance companies.
The day before Thanksgiving, while fewer people were paying attention, the administration announced a one-year delay in the launch of the online enrollment system for small businesses.
With the spotlight on the White House this week, the president will give a speech on the benefits of ObamaCare on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. He’ll also sit down Thursday for an interview with Chris Matthews, a White House-friendly commentator from MSNBC.
The administration hopes the tightly coordinated campaign will gain momentum in the coming days, and bring more people to HealthCare.gov. Poor and young Americans are among the least informed about the law, according to polls.
Yet the White House is still contending with questions about the healthcare website that could hold its enrollment numbers back.
The Washington Post on Tuesday reported that as many as a third of completed applications at HealthCare.gov were incorrectly transmitted to insurers. Without a fix, consumers might not get the insurance they believe they have signed up for.
Over insurers’ remarks to the contrary, administration officials said that the main glitch behind the 834 forms has been addressed.
“The contractor and the issuers are working together and will make sure that every 834 form, both past and present, October 1st forward, is accurate,” Carney said.