By Tom Howell Jr.
The Washington Times
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Making a year-end pitch to preserve the health care law, the White House said Thursday that GOP efforts to repeal it could force millions of Americans to forfeit affordable health coverage.
Democratic lawmakers joined in the fight, saying that by next year the "reality will overtake the propaganda" when it comes to Obamacare.
"We're hoping Republicans will come to their senses and realize how valuable the Affordable Care Act is to the American people," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat.
The public-relations blitz is an attempt to put momentum behind Mr. Obama's law ahead of Jan. 1. An estimated 5 million to 6 million Americans recently lost health plans that did not meet Obamacare's coverage requirements, and the administration is under pressure to get these people enrolled through state-based health exchanges so they do not face a coverage gap in the new year.
Also Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured a group of Democratic senators that people who lost their existing health plans because of Obamacare's requirements will be eligible for an exemption that lets them purchase a plan to protect against catastrophic illness.
"I agree with you that these consumers should qualify for this temporary hardship exemption, and I can assure you that the exemption will be available to them," Mrs. Sebelius said in a letter to the six senators.
Although it is unclear how the mechanics of the exemption will work, the response to the Democrats' concerns addressed fears that people who lost coverage due to Obamacare will go without coverage if they do not find an alternative on state-based markets by Monday — the deadline to have coverage by the new year.
The White House also released a series of reports Thursday to quantify the law's past and potential benefits for Americans in each of the states, saying 41 million uninsured Americans will be eligible for Medicaid or to buy private health plans through one of the state-based Obamacare markets, often with the help of government subsidies.
It also reported that, because of the law, 71 million Americans on private insurance received at a least one preventative care service — such as a mammogram or immunization — in 2011 and 2012, and that up to 129 million people with pre-existing conditions will "not have to worry about being denied health coverage or charged higher premiums because of their health status" starting in 2014.
"These are tangible benefits. They are real for hard-working families across the country," said David Simas, a senior White House adviser.
But widespread glitches ruined the Oct. 1 debut of HealthCare.gov, the web portal that serves 36 states, and some of the 15 state-run health exchanges are not working as planned. The exchanges are supposed to let people shop for private health plans or let people know if they qualify for Medicaid.
Mr. Castro accused Texas' Republican leaders of espousing a "callous" attitude toward residents of the Lone Star State, which has a relatively high rate of uninsured residents but has chosen not to expand its Medicaid program under Obamacare to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Republican lawmakers say the expansion is a bad deal for the states. They also say the health overhaul itself is turning into the train wreck they anticipated, citing rising premium costs in some states and the high number of people who lost coverage while the federal and state exchanges struggle to enroll people.
Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, said this week he will file a bill that triggers the law's repeal if there are more uninsured Americans on Jan. 1 than there were when Congress passed the law in March 2010.
The White House on Thursday insisted that the exchanges have turned a corner and are gathering steam. Mr. Simas cited reports that California is enrolling 15,000 people a day and that New York takes in 5,000 a day. Kentucky takes in 3,000, daily, and Connecticut is processing 2,000, he said.