ABOVE PHOTO: This Oct. 24, 2016, file photo, shows the HealthCare.gov 2017 website home page on display, in Washington. Health insurance experts say the decision to buy 2017 coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s public exchanges shouldn’t boil down to a gamble over the survival of the law, which requires most people to have insurance. Instead, customers should focus on whether they can handle the financial risk that comes with remaining uninsured while they wait for Trump’s health care plan to crystallize. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
By Josh Lederman
HONOLULU — Eager to stop Republicans from destroying his signature health care law, President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers met last week to try to forge a common strategy. Obama also plans a major valedictory speech in Chicago, his hometown, shortly before his presidency ends.
Obama travelled to the Capitol on Wednesday morning for the meeting with House and Senate Democrats, according to an invitation sent to lawmakers. The White House is casting it as an effort to unite Democrats behind a plan to protect the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, before Republicans have a chance to settle on their own plan for repealing it.
Democrats are on edge over the future of the ACA, given the GOP’s disdain for “Obamacare” and President-elect Donald Trump’s vows to gut it. Though Republicans are united behind the notion of repealing the law, they’re split over how best to replace it. Some want to strip out unpopular provisions while leaving others intact, while other Republicans prefer a “start-from-scratch” approach.
It’s that lack of unanimity among Republicans that Obama and Democrats hope can be exploited, if they can lay the groundwork even before Trump takes office. To that end, Obama also planned to answer questions about the future of the health care law next Friday during a livestreamed event at Blair House, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
Initially stunned by the defeat of Hillary Clinton, Democrats are now trying to organize a counter-attack to preserve the ACA, among the most significant expansions of the social safety net since Medicare and Medicaid were created 50 years ago. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has urged her lawmakers to make health care their focus at the start of the year.
Defenders of the law have also launched a political coalition called “Protect Our Care,” bringing together more than 20 groups, including the NAACP and the Service Employees International Union.
One of their objectives is to try to prevent Republicans from repealing the ACA without also enacting a replacement. (Currently Republicans plan to quickly vote on repealing the law, and delay the effective date to give them time to craft a replacement.) Another goal for Democrats is to pre-empt bigger health care changes to Medicare and Medicaid long sought by Republicans.
Since the ACA passed, about 20 million people have gained coverage and the uninsured rate has dropped to a historic low of around 9 percent. Some of the coverage gains are due to employers offering jobs with health care in a stronger economy, but most experts mainly credit Obama’s law.
A recent poll suggests that defenders of the law may get a receptive hearing from the public. Only about 1 in 4 Americans want Trump and the GOP-led Congress to completely repeal the ACA, according to a post-election survey by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Republicans don’t fully appreciate the implications of even a partial repeal of the ACA,” said Rob Restuccia, executive director of Community Catalyst, one of the advocacy groups in the coalition trying to preserve the law. “People use the analogy of the dog that caught the car.”
Obama’s speech in Chicago on Jan. 10 is expected to serve as his closing words to the nation as president. His appearance will be open to the public and followed by a “family reunion” for alumni of Obama’s former campaigns, according to a “save-the-date” notice sent to Obama alumni and obtained by The Associated Press.
The White House has not confirmed Obama’s speech or trip to Chicago.