- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2011

With consumers already enjoying prescription-drug discounts, expanded health coverage for young adults, and insurance plans for pre-existing conditions, Democrats say the Republican push to repeal the health care overhaul will encounter opposition from the growing number of people who benefit from it.

The White House and Democratic lawmakers have been busy driving that message home in press conferences, committee testimony and floor speeches on Capitol Hill, while the new Republican majority in the House has been busy setting the stage for a vote this week to scrap the health care reform that President Obama signed into law in March.

“They can’t be serious, to have people now that have pre-existing disabilities to no longer be able to get insurance,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They can’t be serious when people who are on Social Security now can get a free checkup, they can have wellness checks anytime they want and not have to pay for it.”

But House Republicans show no signs of backing off their campaign pledge to scrap the president’s signature legislative achievement, saying that when push comes to shove, the bad aspects of the law trump the good.

“It is telling that the more Americans learn about it, the more discouraged they are by its harmful effects,” new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Sunday in the GOP’s weekly address. “The law is fundamentally flawed because it enables federal bureaucrats to come between patients and their doctors, limiting choices. And because of its mandates, ‘Obamacare’ has already caused the costs of health care to increase, while forcing some Americans to give up the health care they have even if they like it.”

While new polling data show that the raw feelings over the overhaul have subsided, an overwhelming majority think the landmark measure needs to be fixed. An Associated Press poll shows 40 percent support the law, while 41 percent oppose it. Just after the November congressional elections, opposition stood at 47 percent and support was 38 percent.

But less than 20 percent say it should be left as it is.

The fight is part of a broader battle on Capitol Hill in which both parties have in the opening days of the new Congress tried to cast themselves as the more fiscally responsible group, with Democrats saying Republicans are in favor of “reckless spending” and Republicans blasting Democrats for a “job-killing agenda.”

Mr. Cantor and Republicans also have accused Democrats of front-loading the health care law with benefits, while pushing off the more controversial aspects of the plan, including the individual mandate, until after the 2012 election.

In fact, since being signed into law, more than half of the bill’s provisions have gone on the books, including several of the law’s more popular changes.

Now an estimated 4 million seniors are expected to receive a $250 check this year to help cover their Medicare drug costs, young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26, and people with a pre-existing condition or high medical costs are covered.

In addition, small businesses receive tax breaks for providing their employees with insurance benefits, free annual checkups for seniors, and, as of Jan. 1, some seniors who qualify will receive a 50 percent discount when buying Medicare Part D covered brand-name prescription drugs.

“Why would we, in the quest to improve [the law], destroy things that are now actively making a difference for people, and they’re depending on it?” Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, asked his colleagues last week.

House Speaker John A. Boehner last week signaled his intention to “replace it with common-sense reforms that’ll bring down the cost of health insurance.”

But he and other Republicans have yet to say whether they would like to revive some of the law’s more popular provisions, if the repeal effort is successful.

The GOP had scheduled the repeal vote on Wednesday, but Mr. Cantor announced Saturday that it would be postponed in order to deal with the fallout from the shooting on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Arizona.

As it stands, the repeal bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled House. Democrats promise to kill it in the Senate.

Whatever the case, the first high-profile battle of the 112th Congress has been heavy with symbolism, with the GOP employing a doom-and-gloom message about the future of health care and Democrats angling to put Republicans on the spot for attempting to yank away some of the benefits people just started to receive.

Last week, Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, shared the story of a constituent in his district who said that her son had been diagnosed with cancer after returning from college, and the new law requires her insurance to cover the cost of treatment.

“He would not have been covered if the bill had not passed,” Mr. McGovern said, reading from a letter.

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