In the two years after health care reform passed, public opinion has remained stagnant. Americans are largely in the dark about the ways in which reform benefits them. In an election year, that’s a big problem. This week, as the Supreme Court prepares to determine the law’s fate, Democrats have launched an aggressive tour to shore-up support for health care reform among their most crucial constituencies, particularly women.
“I think transformational change never comes easy, and that’s what this is,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) told TPM. But, Speier admits when she reflects on 2010, Democrats could have played their hand more expertly.
“I thought the messaging on our side was not great and in fact, there were a lot of myths and outright lies that were promulgated on the other side that stuck,” Speier said. From death panels to providing care for non-U.S. citizens to the government accessing Americans’ bank accounts, “we saw it as so outlandish and so ridiculous that it wasn’t worth even refuting,” said Speier. “But we should have, because that’s where I think the negative feelings, to the extent they still exist, got their start.”
Women benefit in numerous ways from the health care law, but they are largely in the dark about the benefits headed their way. If Democrats lost control of the messaging in 2010, on the reform’s second birthday, they’re trying hard to take it back.
Democrats and the Obama campaign are holding press conferences, penning op-eds and helping advocate groups organize on the law’s behalf in their communities. Direct mail about the legislation has gone out to women in battleground states, promotional videos are widely circulated, a new website is up and house parties are being held. There’s even a Twitter feed, called “Numbers To Know,” promoted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, that spits statistics. Among its tweets: “20.4 Million: Women who’ve received a free preventive service (like a mammogram) thx to #HCR” and “$3.2 billion: Amount 5.1 million seniors have saved in Rx drug costs thx to #HCR.”
Even though full implementation won’t happen until 2014, men and women are already benefiting from some provisions in the Affordable Care Act. And the most popular parts of the bill are those that are already in effect, said Speier. “How can you not like the fact that your son or daughter can stay on your health plan? Or that your that your child that has leukemia is going to be able to get health insurance because they can’t discriminate against him or her because of pre-existing conditions? Or a senior citizen in the donut hole who is now saving on average $600 a year?”
Politically, Democrats’ mission is twofold: They want to educate women about the ways in which the law benefits them, and persuade them to vote for their candidates to prevent Republicans from repealing it — either in one fell swoop, or bit by but. As one video from the DNC put it: “women still pay more than men for the same health insurance coverage.” The ACA would prohibit “gender rating” starting in in 2014, but “every Republican running for president would repeal” it, “keeping gender discrimination in place.”
But Republicans are pushing their own PR campaign against the law, insisting that it constitutes a “tax war on women.” As the GOP continues to suffer low marks from women in the wake of the contraception coverage debate and state-level bills backed by Republicans mandating ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, Republicans in Washington are trying to turn the tables on Democrats by painting the health care reform law as anti-woman.
The conservative advocacy group tied to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, YG Network, released a poll detailing the degree to which women do not understand or approve of the health care law. The poll shows that a majority of women oppose the individual mandate — a cornerstone of the law requiring uninsured citizens to purchase coverage or pay a penalty — and believe the law will raise their health care costs. If anything, the survey underscores the amount of ground Democrats need to make up. It did not ask questions about the aspects of the law that, like those named by Speier, have already gone into effect.
In the conservative Daily Caller Tuesday, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist penned an op-ed arguing that the Affordable Care Act disproportionately hurts women by raising various costs for them.
On the GOP’s counter-narrative, Speier says angrily, “I am sick and tired of men telling women what’s good for them and what’s bad for them in health care.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.