Obamacare supporters, detractors prepare for major PR campaigns

The public relations war over Obamacare is set to intensify this month, with groups on both sides planning major campaigns designed to shape opinions just weeks before the law is to hit a critical milestone.

This week, Heritage Action, the political action arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, announced plans for a series of town hall meetings across the country. The meetings will feature former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), another tea party favorite, and will center on efforts to defund the law.

But Democrat-aligned groups already are responding aggressively. On Thursday, Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, announced a new campaign in conjunction with a health-care advocacy group in 10 states. The effort is designed to “hold Republicans accountable” and “go on the offensive” to promote the law, group President Brad Woodhouse told reporters.

“We will deploy every tool and tactic available,” Woodhouse said, including hiring top state-level political consultants and recruiting activists to turn up at the Heritage town hall meetings and protest at Republican events.

The efforts come in advance of Oct. 1, when the law’s health-care marketplaces are set to open. These are Web sites where people will be able to peruse new insurance options and apply for government subsidies to help them afford the monthly premiums.

Starting next year, virtually all Americans must carry health insurance or face a fine, which starts as low as $95 in 2014 and eventually rises to $695 or more for an individual. Insurance companies will be barred from rejecting applicants because of preexisting conditions.

The public is sharply divided about the law, with 42 percent of Americans in favor of it and 49 percent against, according to a July Washington Post-ABC News poll. Support has slipped among some Democrats; fully 74 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats supported the law in 2010, compared with 46 percent in the July poll.

At the same time, questions are multiplying about the law’s viability. Last month, the Obama administration delayed by a year a requirement that large employers offer health coverage to full-time workers. Republicans have pointed to the delay as evidence the law is fatally flawed.

By keeping the spotlight on the law’s stumbles, conservative and Republican groups hope to fuel repeal efforts and capi­tal­ize on what they see as a key Democratic vulnerability in the 2014 midterm elections.

“Instead of acknowledging that the law is unpopular because of its ill effects, and doing something about it, the Administration has chosen to spend millions of taxpayer dollars approaching it as a marketing and PR problem. This is wrong,” Chris Bond, spokesman for the Young Guns Network, said in a statement.

The nonprofit advocacy group, which has ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), is ramping up its attacks on Obamacare with an ad campaign mocking the law on YouTube and television.

A coalition of tea party groups on Thursday announced an August-through-October campaign lobbying Congress titled “You Fund It, You Own It.” Other groups are urging uninsured people to not sign up for coverage.

Nervous Democrats are hoping a different narrative takes hold: that the health-care law is driving down insurance premiums and will continue to help people as some of its key provisions kick in next year.

Organizing for Action, the nonprofit advocacy group spun out of President Obama’s reelection campaign, plans to spend more than a million dollars on advertising this summer. It plans to promote the health-care overhaul this Sunday, in honor of the president’s 52nd birthday, with events that center on the stories of people who have benefited from the law.

“It’s about one mom talking to other moms and saying, ‘How do we get all our 27-year-olds signed up?’ ” executive director Jon Carson said.

Matea Gold and Sarah Kliff contributed to this report.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.
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