Key Obamacare architects said Tuesday political headwinds will not deter them from promoting the controversial health law in its second year, casting the reforms as a private matter for American families even though it remains the centerpiece of partisan struggles on Capitol Hill.
In her first major address since resigning, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised enrollment volunteers for staring down “relentless obstruction” and even “intimidation” as they promoted the law.
“It was harder in states where you were facing unbelievable odds,” she told nearly 1,000 professionals and volunteers at the “State of Enrollment” conference in Washington hosted by Enroll America, a nonprofit that promotes the law.
Under duress for much of the first enrollment period from September to April, Mrs. Sebelius left on a relative high point after 8 million people signed up for private coverage on the law’s health exchanges. She offered a parting “thank you” to supporters Tuesday while indirectly calling out political leaders in Texas, Florida or other places who pushed back against the law.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat who led the only southern state to set up its own Obamacare state-based marketplace, said tens of thousands residents in his red state enrolled because they looked past the political bickering.
“I told people, ‘You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to like President Obama,’” he said. “Because this is not about me and it’s not about the president. It’s about you. It’s about your family.”
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The summit’s attempt to move beyond Obamacare’s partisan tint — Mr. Beshear did take some jabs at his state’s Republican senators — stood in contrast to the bickering that has marked the five years since Democratic majorities muscled the Affordable Care Act through Congress.
The GOP is highlighting the law’s stumbles in its bid to take control Congress next year, but its health care rhetoric and trail of anti-Obamacare votes have taken a back seat to leadership battles and what to do, if anything, about immigration reform.
The law’s supporters appeared to welcome this cooling trend on Tuesday. With one enrollment season in the books, supporters will be “walking and chewing gum at the same time” as they try to keep enrollees covered and seek out those who remain uninsured, Enroll America President Anne Filipic said in an interview.
“This conversation — helping people enroll in coverage — is not about politics, it’s about personal decisions,” she said, noting the debate will shift from “this highly politicized issue that people talk about in terms of elections or Washington, D.C., to an issue they talk about in terms of their friends and family and the coverage they have.
“I think that naturally de-fangs it, it naturally makes it real to people, and I think we’re starting to see that ripple effect,” she added.
While the war over Obamacare may have calmed, the battle lines remain clear.
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In a surprise video message to Tuesday’s conference, Mr. Obama told attendees not to let up while what he said were billionaire donors on “the other side” try to roll back their gains.
“But we’ve got something better — we’ve got you,” he told the summit. “I’ll take you any day of the week.”
Republican lawmakers warn that law’s customers face high deductibles and are in for rate shock in the coming months, when states release the latest rates.
HHS tried to boost Obamacare’s appeal this week with a report that highlights the law’s financial assistance. The agency said 69 percent of enrollees who selected a plan in the federal Obamacare marketplace and received tax credits had premiums of $100 or less, while 46 percent paid $50 per month or less with the subsidies.
On average, monthly premiums for people who selected plans with tax credits dropped by 76 percent after the subsidies were applied.
However, senior HHS officials could not say whether the high rate of subsidized plans will cause federal costs to rise beyond expectations. Their data did not include figures from state-run marketplaces, so significant states such as California were not part of the calculation.
“Nearly 7 in 10 consumers who signed up for Marketplace coverage are paying $100 or less for that coverage,” newly confirmed HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said. “When there is choice and competition, everybody benefits.”