An Obamacare 'September Surprise' for Democrats?
President Obama has unilaterally altered Obamacare mandates and regulations 41 times since the rollout last October. Most of those alterations were done to prevent politically damaging parts of the program from hurting Democrats in the mid terms.
But try as he might, the president won't be able to hide all the bad news.
Most state health insurance rates for 2015 are scheduled to be approved by early fall, and most are likely to rise, timing that couldn’t be worse for Democrats already on defense in the midterms.
he White House and its allies know they’ve been beaten in every previous round of Obamacare messaging, never more devastatingly than in 2010. And they know the results this November could hinge in large part on whether that happens again.
So they’re trying to avoid — or at least, get ahead of — any September surprise.
Aware that state insurance rate hikes could give Republicans a chance to resurrect Obamacare as a political liability just weeks before the midterms, the White House’s internal health care enrollment outreach apparatus immediately redirected into a rapid-response, blocking-and-tackling research and press operation geared toward preempting GOP attacks on the issue.
In what aides say is a sign of a changed approach within the White House — but also heightened concerns around the midterms — they’re even coordinating with Hill Democrats, funneling localized background analysis and talking points to each state’s delegation through Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. They’ve also relied on California Rep. Henry Waxman’s staff at the Energy and Commerce Committee to produce rebuttal reports, often in advance, on GOP claims about insurance.
“One of the lessons we’ve learned in implementing health care is to stay on it,” said Tara McGuinness, the White House senior communications adviser who has been spearheading the effort for the West Wing, reflecting on previous run-ins. “We are not going to let anyone distort the debate.”
She's right. Only the White House should be able to distort the debate. But they're going to have problems with messaging:
With Democrats looking to hang on to Senate seats in many Republican-leaning states, they’ll be hoping that the final numbers don’t come in anywhere near the 24.6 percent hike that report from the anti-Obamacare Heritage Foundation projected for a family of four in Arkansas, or even the 13.1 percent increase in Alaska or 12.4 percent in Louisiana.
So far, although no state has finalized its rate, 21 have posted bids for 2015. Average preliminary premiums went up in all 21, though only a few by double digits.
The White House has been jawboning insurance companies, pleading with them to hold the line on premium increases. But the fact is, any increase at all goes against the promises made by President Obama when the law was being passed; that rates would go down, not up.
The delayed employer mandate, the failure to launch the small business marketplace, a still incomplete website, inaccurate subsidies for hundreds of thousands - Obamacare will remain a target rich environment for Republicans. And if they play it right in the fall, they should be able to ride it once again to a big victory.