State of the Union 2014: GOP’s guests highlight Obamacare trouble
By: Seung Min Kim
January 28, 2014 09:36 AM EST
House Republicans want Obamacare’s woes to take center stage at the State of the Union.
GOP lawmakers are bringing guests to President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday night who are negatively affected by the health care law – from consumers who’ve seen their insurance plans cancelled to business owners who are beleaguered by new guidelines under the Affordable Care Act.
At least a dozen GOP lawmakers are bringing Obamacare plus-ones to the State of the Union in a coordinated effort, according to information provided by the House Republican Conference and individual offices.
“It’s putting a face to the problem,” said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who is bringing Diane Hunter, a president and CEO of Interim Health Care, a home health agency in his district. “So often times, people in Washington, D.C., don’t seem to understand that these policies are having a real, dramatic effect on small businesses.”
Using State of the Union guests to make a political point is nothing new. But the president’s annual address gives an especially bright spotlight for Republicans to wage yet another political assault on the health care law – particularly in an election year in which Obamacare is expected to play a major role.
The Republicans are aggressively promoting their anti-Obamacare guests in the media and holding events to put the focus on the health care law. Just hours before the address, a handful of House GOP lawmakers and their Obamacare-centric guests will hold a press conference in conjunction with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is slated to attend the news conference at the RNC headquarters, is also focusing on the health care law’s impact on small business. His guest is Larry Katz, who owns Dots Diner, a New Orleans-based restaurant chain. Katz has testified on the impact of Obamacare before the Senate Small Business Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) – whom Cassidy is trying to oust in this year’s midterm elections.
“He estimates that Obamacare will cost his business over $50,000 a year to implement,” Cassidy said in a statement. “The impact of Obamacare on small business owners and their employees is a reality check on what the administration says about Obamacare.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who as the House Republican Conference chairwoman is spearheading its messaging strategy for the State of the Union, has encouraged lawmakers to bring guests who are being “left behind” by the policies of the Obama administration – and the health law has been a big focal point.
“Filling the House gallery with those we serve and who are committed to helping will provide a powerful contrast to the empty rhetoric of the president,” McMorris Rodgers, who is also delivering the official Republican response to Obama’s address, wrote in a letter describing the effort.
Republicans are especially fond of inviting guests who have seen their insurance coverage cancelled – a direct swipe at Obama’s now-debunked promise that individuals could keep their existing plans if they wanted to do so.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has invited Emilie Lamb, a constituent who suffers from lupus who was previously insured under CoverTN, the state-administered health plan that ended coverage for 16,000 consumers because it did not meet the minimum services required under Obamacare. While Lamb has since been able to enroll under the Affordable Care Act, her monthly premiums are quadrupling to $400, a Blackburn spokesman said.
Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) is bringing Julie Boonstra of Dexter, Mich., a leukemia patient who went through a similar situation. And Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the conference’s chief deputy whip, will be accompanied by Diane Iser, a breast cancer survivor whose plan was also cancelled under Obamacare.
Iser, who was covered under Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, has had her plan reinstated for one year, but is now being told that her health care costs are set to increase over the next three years, Roskam’s office said.
Other Republicans are highlighting further problems with the law.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a tea party darling and one of Obamacare’s loudest foes on Capitol Hill, is being accompanied by Julie Anderson, a family doctor based in St. Cloud, Minn., who complains that “government intrusion in health care is eroding patient care.” Anderson now spends half her time at her practice sifting through new regulations under the Affordable Care Act, according to Bachmann’s office.
A handful of Democrats are countering with their own guests – highlighting the benefits of Obamacare for patients who have pre-existing conditions and who have saved costs by enrolling under the federal health care law.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) invited Martin West, a small business owner in southern Florida whose wife, Melinda, was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma two decades ago. The West family enrolled in Obamacare and has cut their monthly premiums by nearly $300 while lowering their deductible by $2,500, the lawmaker’s office said.
“While I was unsure how Obamacare would play out, I think now this is a good thing and I believe premiums and benefits will be positively impacted,” West wrote in a letter to Wasserman Schultz, according to her office. “I am glad that you pushed through this legislation.”
Texas Rep. Marc Veasey is another House Democrat proud to tout the benefits of Obamacare. His guest is Jason Roberts, a testicular cancer survivor in Veasey’s district whose health coverage under COBRA – the program that allows individuals to stay on their former employers’ plans – was set to expire this April.
But Roberts signed up for Obamacare and is now able to continue key treatments such as CAT scans and urological appointments, but his new “gold” plan in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas will save him $3,600 per year in premiums, Veasey’s office said.
And Democrats have their own issues to highlight.
Eight House Democrats are bringing constituents who have lost their jobs to press their case for extending unemployment insurance – which ended in December for more than 1.6 million Americans.
And a contingent of five Illinois Democrats – including Rep. Luis Gutierrez – have invited guests aimed at pressuring Congress to act on immigration this year, including pro-reform advocates and young undocumented immigrants.
And then there’s Steve Stockman.
The Texas Republican mailed out his State of the Union invite back in October to Chad Henderson, a student at Chattanooga State University who told a slew of news outlets nationwide that he and his father had successfully enrolled under Obamacare – when they hadn’t.
Calling Henderson “practically a Democrat member of Congress,” Stockman announced that he would be asking the college student to join him for the president’s address. But Henderson appears to be game for the stunt – he recently told Buzzfeed that he’s accepted the invite.