During his press conference Tuesday morning, President Obama was asked to respond to growing fears among Democrats that mishandled implementation of the national health care law could cause them electoral problems in 2014. His response could not have been reassuring to them.
NBC’s Chuck Todd, in asking the question, highlighted Sen. Max Baucus’s concern that the implementation could be a “train wreck.” As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus was one of the chief authors of the legislation.
In a long-winded answer, Obama started by making the case that the health care law was mostly implemented for the 85 percent or so of Americans who already have insurance and like it, and that it was already delivering them benefits, even if they didn’t know it. But this is exactly what Baucus and his fellow Democrats have been worried about.
Though the “train wreck” comments received the most attention, a big part of Baucus’ concern surrounded his perception that the health care law was delivering benefits, but that the administration’s outreach effort was so poor that people didn’t know about them.
“The administration’s public information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act deserves a failing grade,” Baucus sternly told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “You need to fix this.”
“I am worried that a lack of clear information is leading to misconceptions and misinformation about the law," he said. "And people generally dislike what they don’t understand.”
By saying that the health care law was already delivering so many great benefits to 85 percent of the country and they don’t even know it, Obama was just reinforcing Baucus’ point.
Beyond that, it’s false for Obama to suggest that implementation of the law next year won’t affect anybody other than those who are currently uninsured. In reality, new taxes kick in next year along with the individual mandate, changes to Medicare, fines on businesses that do not offer health insurance, new insurance regulations that will drive up the cost of premiums, along with myriad other provisions with wide-ranging impact. And this assumes that the new insurance exchanges will be open for business in October and ready to deliver benefits in January, as scheduled.
Last week, the New York Times reported on Democratic senators in addition to Baucus raising alarms to the administration about how implementation could put them at risk in 2014. I can’t imagine Obama’s comments this morning assuaged their fears.