- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Besides blasting Republicans, the Democratic National Committee is attacking insurance companies in its latest TV ads to promote

President Obama’s health care overhaul, accusing the industry of shamefully putting profits above Americans’ health.

The ad drubs insurers for bumping up the cost of premiums and co-pays “faster than your paycheck,” and accuses them of dictating decisions on treatment that are “denying you coverage while their profits soar.”

As the health care debate sizzles into late summer, the Democratic Party - knocked to its heels by sagging public support - is pushing back with national and targeted television ads aimed at dismissing Republican Party rhetoric.

Democratic leaders are hitting the Republican Party as the party of “do nothing,” criticizing Republicans for offering no viable alternative to fix the most expensive health care system in the world that leaves an estimated 45 million Americans uninsured.

In a national cable television advertisement running this month titled “The cost of doing nothing,” the DNC says families, small businesses and the economy will suffer without immediate and comprehensive health care reform.

“Republicans prefer the status quo, so we thought it important to highlight the cost of doing nothing,” said DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said. “They’re offering nothing, and we thought that was a very important distinction to make.”

Tom Miller, a health care expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, calls the Democrat’s strategy “tactical desperation.”

“It suggests a position of weakness rather than strength,” he said.

Mr. Miller adds that the administration and Democrats are hoping to deflect criticism of a flawed health care plan by singling out the insurance industry because it’s an “entity that polls worse than the current congressional health legislation.”

For the Republicans part, no national television or radio campaign is planned for the coming weeks to attack the Democrats’ proposal. Instead, the Republican National Committee is hoping to capitalize on the Democrats’ waning public support by airing attack radio ads in the districts of four conservative House Democrats who support the legislation.

“Our campaign (this month) has been totally targeted,” said RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho. She said the ad buy cost about $1 million.

While polls show public support for the administration’s health care plan has dropped in recent months, there remains significant interest in reforming the nation’s health care system on some level.

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken Aug. 1-2 shows that 48 percent of voters rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent - an increase of 13 percentage points from a similar poll taken in May. A year ago, just 29 percent of likely voters rated the system in such positive terms.

The latest Rasmussen survey also shows that just 19 percent of respondents rate the nation’s health care system as poor. The poll also shows that 80 percent of those with insurance rate their own coverage as good or excellent - up from 70 percent in May.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted July 24-27 shows that 42 percent of Americans now say that the president’s plan is a bad idea - a 10-percentage point increase compared with a month earlier. Thirty-six percent say it’s a good idea.

Elizabeth Carpenter, associate policy director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist Washington think tank, says it’s understandable that Democrats have been defending their positions more forcefully after being hit with a barrage of misinformation from Republicans and other opponents.

“There is no question that the message coming from anti-reformers is loud and it’s inaccurate in many ways and they’re trying to scare people, so I think obviously Democrats are going to respond,” Ms. Carpenter said. “It’s save to say that anti-reformers have now gone negative, so Democrats - pro-reformers - are stepping up their game, too. And they have to.”

Democrats also are pushing the message that Republicans are “playing politics” with health care, saying that recent comments by several Capitol Hill Republicans is proof the Republican Party is trying to sabotage the Democrats plan in the hope of discrediting and politically hurting Mr. Obama.

Chief among the examples Democrats point to is a recent comment by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina that if his party can stop administration’s health care proposal, it would be Mr. Obama’s “Waterloo” and “will break him.”

“It’s clear that despite the fact that soaring health care costs continue to challenge American families, businesses, and the economy, Republicans remain much more interested in ‘breaking’ the president than they are in fixing a broken health insurance system,” Mr. Sevugan said.

Despite the polls, Ms. Carpenter says Democrats this year have done a significantly better job promoting their health care plan compared with the Clinton administration’s attempt in 1993 and 1994, when insurers and other key groups successfully opposed the administration’s push for universal health care.

And despite the recent criticisms lobbed at health insurance companies by Democrats, the administration has been more successful job reaching out to the insurance industry as it develops its plan.

“What we know is the American people fundamentally distrust private insurance - that’s something that has been proven,” Ms Carpenter said. But “it’s fair to say the insurance industry has been far more productive in this debate than they were in ‘93 and ‘94.”

Mr. Miller said that insurance companies generally have a high tolerance for criticism and understand that much of the recent tough talk by Democrats against them largely is political posturing. And the industry realizes it makes sense for them to work with, not against, the White House and Congress in order to get the best deal.

“The insurers positioned themselves in a particular corner, and I don’t think they have somewhere else to go to,” Mr. Miller said. “They may not be comfortable with having names called at them, but they tend to be defensive and believe half of it themselves anyway.”

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