As the clock ticks down over the next 35 days to Oct. 1, the official kickoff date to start state health care insurance markets, the battle to defend or derail the nation's health care law, referred to now even by President Barack Obama as Obamacare, the nickname Republicans dubbed the Affordable Care Act, has taken to the streets throughout the nation and in Ohio.
The ACA was passed without a single Republican voting for it in March of 2010, and four years later, health care watchers say public ignorance about the insurance market places, the heart of Obamacare, remains high enough that the goal of offering affordable health care to the uninsured is seriously threatened. One study CNBC focused on earlier this year concluded that awareness about the new healthcare law had declined among some groups more than three years after Obamacare was signed.
To Republicans and Obamacare antagonists, this is good news. To the White House and advocates for Obamacare, it signals that much work needs to be done to inform and educate the approximately 50 million people the state exchanges were designed to help.
All Americans, including Congress, will be able to buy their insurance through the exchange as long as they are above the poverty level (those Americans will be covered under Medicaid expansion). Anyone (except congress) can opt out and keep their current health insurance, pay a tax, purchase private insurance or stay on their private insurance.
That battle took to the field Tuesday in Ohio, the state that put President Obama over the top for a second four-year term in the White House. Obamacare advocates, like Joanne Pickrell of Protect Your Care Ohio, an umbrella organization of affiliated groups like Planned Parenthood and the Service Employees International Union and other progressive groups, said the event is only one in a series of events to be held across Ohio to promote "real information and the truth about the Affordable Care Act."
A Columbus business owner described GOP repeal efforts as a step backward for Ohio and said opponents are disrespecting Ohioans with disinformation and partisan attacks. "As a business owner, I’m asking for constituent service and good information from state and federal officials, Carmen Owens, owner/operator with the Columbus Food League, said at a downtown eatery. "Obamacare is the law of the land and it will make it easier for me to continue to offer health benefits to our employees," she said.
Learning their lesson from the summer of 2010, when following the ACA's signing in law Tea Party activists dominated the news with their anger against the president and his law, pro-health care reform organizations sought to get the jump on events Obamacare opponents are orchestrating in preparation for the return of Congress to Washington in September and the fight taking shape over continued federal funding including raising the default ceiling, a fight that took place in 2011 that precipitated a downgrade to America's credit rating based on political gridlock and dysfunction.
Also occurring in Columbus today was a repeal Obamacare town hall meeting sponsored by Heritage Action, a conservative nonprofit social welfare organization affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy advocacy group. The group recently announced that it will hold nine town halls around the country during the month of August to focus on efforts to defund ObamaCare in the upcoming Continuing Resolution.
Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, Heritage Foundation President, Jim DeMint and Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), were in Columbus Tuesday to promote their defund Obamacare agenda.
DeMint, a former U.S. Senator from South Carolina who left the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, said he wants to hear directly from people in local communities who often suffer from Washington's out-of-touch policies. "Fortunately, Washington doesn't have to win," he said, adding, "We have an opportunity to change the direction of our nation by defunding ObamaCare and advancing conservative policy solutions that will help place us back on the path toward fiscal responsibility."
Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, spoke at the news conference today in Columbus. "Pro health reform advocates are going to meet the repealers and defunders on the battlefield and confront them directly and aggressively," he said. "A strong majority of the American people want the Affordable Care Act implemented and fixed if necessary – they do not want it repealed – which is the only plan for health care Republicans have," Woodhouse said.
Obamacare advocates want DeMint and company to explain why they want to take away from women preventative care coverage, take away from kids the elimination of pre-existing conditions or from seniors eliminating the prescription drug donut hole, why is Heritage against their own ideas for an exchange? Why are they rooting against Americans by playing politics with their health care."
Columbus wasn't the only Ohio city where Obamacare activity took place. In Troy, in rural west central Ohio, the Ohio Liberty Coalition held a rally that hundreds attended that was designed to "respectfully tell Speaker John Boehner to do the people’s will and defund Obamacare."
Jason Hart, reporting for Ohio Media Trackers’, landed an interview with DeMint about Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s push for Medicaid/Obamacare expansion. DeMint called Medicaid expansion funding "fool’s gold," Hart wrote. "I hope the people of Ohio will not take what I call fool’s gold; it looks good, it’d make the budget look good the next three to four years – that’s if the federal government comes through with this."
DeMint and his minions may be too late this time if a report in USA Today about the Obamacare sign ups exceeding estimates. According to USA Today, estimates from 19 states operating health insurance exchanges to help the uninsured find coverage show that at least 8.5 million will use the exchanges to buy insurance. This number far outstrips the federal government's estimate of 7 million new customers in all 50 states. Three states—Texas, Florida and California—are being targeted by Health and Human Services, the federal department managing the ACA, because half of the uninsured people living there are ages 18 to 35, a key demographic Obamacare needs to be sustainable.
Opponents of the law say seven million new people will buy insurance, but they may be the wrong people to keep costs down, USA Today reported. Ed Haislmaier, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it's possible that many new insurance customers may simply shift from getting insurance through employers who drop their health insurance coverage when they realize their employees can buy affordable insurance on the exchanges. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office say two million fewer people may receive their insurance through their employers in 2014.
Open enrollment for new insurance customers in the exchanges starts Oct. 1 and ends March 31, 2014.
Back in Columbus, Owens of the Columbus Food League, said "It makes no sense to go backwards on reforming our health care system. There is too much that’s good in this law to abandon it. I’m hopeful that the obnoxious partisanship ends soon and we can all get about the business of making Obamacare work."
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