It’s August, so that means arguing over Obamacare.
And, as described in the article posted below this one, South Floridians are getting an earful from a massive marketing campaign and political pitches attempting to sell the virtues or sound the alarm over the health law.
It’s like a political version of Groundhog Day, the movie in which a character keeps reliving the same day over and over. Ever since the summer of 2009, when the tea party movement exploded on the scene by turning congressional town hall meetings into showdowns over the legislation that ultimately became Obamacare, there’s been summertime skirmishing over health care.
This year, well funded interest groups are stoking the debate, along with the political arms of the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S. House of Representatives, with everyone happy to throw fuel on whatever fire they can find.
The politics are tricky. Although “Obamacare” by isn’t especially popular – many polls show the public is more opposed than supportive – lots of the individual pieces of the law – expanded preventive care, preventing denials of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, an end to limits on coverage, allowing people up to age 26 to get coverage through their parents’ policies – enjoy public support.
Both sides are ready to hold the other one accountable by pressing their cases at town hall meetings. Except there aren’t as many town halls as there used to be.
What had been sleepy affairs with members of Congress touting their accomplishments and taking an occasional question about Social Security, changed dramatically after the 2009 events. Many members of Congress have abandoned open town hall meetings, where constituents could come to ask about anything they want.
Instead, there are more structured events. At the end of the month, Wasserman Schultz, and U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, are planning Broward and Palm Beach county roundtables with doctors and representatives of hospitals and health clinics. They’re bringing in an official from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Democrats, who represent seven of the eight congressional districts that include all or parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, aren’t the only ones shying away from town halls. A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican whose district includes part of South Broward, said this week – the second week of the five-week summer congressional recess – that no decision has yet been made about whether the congressman will do any events related to the health care law between now and the end of Congress’ break.
One reason members of Congress are cautious, said Slade O’Brien of Boca Raton, Florida director of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, is that they’re concerned about next year’s elections.
“Most people believe that this will be a 2014 campaign issue. Nobody quite knows today what next summer’s going to look like. And I think there’s a nervousness of being pigeonholed in a place that you don’t want to be pigeonholed into.”
In the meantime, opponents might be able to prevail if they can create a background of uncertainty – and the implementation of the program is a disaster. Starting Oct. 1, people will be signing up for new insurance through online exchanges, and there’s no way to know if there will be isolated glitches or major meltdowns – and how it’s portrayed in the news media.
“A really big flop of a rollout could be the death knell before it begins,” said Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University.
O’Brien said that’s already happening. “The more people are finding out what’s in the [law], the more questions and concerns you’re getting raised,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s collapsing under it’s own weight.”
But Ashley Mushnick, communications director for U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents northwest Broward and southwest Palm Beach county, said the opponents will be surprised when the insurance marketplace goes live on Oct. 1.
“Contrary to their assertions, the world’s not going to end,” she said. “In fact, the world’s going to get a lot better for people who are currently priced out of the insurance market.”