Waiting for Supreme Court health-care decision: A news release for every outcome
By Sarah Kliff,
Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack does not know how the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act, or even when the decision will be made. This is what he does know: His group has a news release ready for it.
For weeks now, his pro-health-law nonprofit has had seven separate statements, reacting to the various ways the Supreme Court might rule. There’s one for if the whole law gets upheld, and another for a situation where it is all taken down. One for where just the individual mandate falls, and a completely separate statement should the end to preexisting conditions go with it.
Pollack got worried Wednesday that all that preparation might not be enough. So he drafted an eighth statement, reacting to yet another possible combination of decisions.
“I know it sounds ridiculous,” Pollack said, “but how many things do you want to be unprepared for?”
The health-care case is among the more complex that the Supreme Court has faced in its modern history. The justices heard 51 / 2 hours of oral arguments — the longest in 45 years — on four separate legal challenges to the law.
The court’s decision may not be a yes-or-no verdict. Many observers expect it to fall somewhere in between, with some parts of the law upheld and others tossed out.
“We anticipate it will be a very busy day,” said Mike Gonzalez, vice president for communications at the Heritage Foundation. “There are several scenarios that could happen. I imagine the analysts here at Heritage are going to be responding to a lot of requests.”
Interviews with legislative staff and advocacy groups indicate that many have prepared multiple statements, ready to be blasted within moments of the Supreme Court ruling.
“Probably two or three weeks ago, we realized this was going to be coming and had a fairly strong strategy session,” said one senior Democratic aide who did not want to be identified speculating on the verdict. “We literally have six statements. I’m sure we’ll keep tweaking them.”
American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a director of the Congressional Budget Office in the George W. Bush administration, planned to work through the weekend. He is preparing economic estimates on how the price of health insurance would change and how many people would still gain coverage under various Supreme Court decisions.
“When they announce, we are going to be able to very quickly provide some serious estimates,” Holtz-Eakin said. “We think we’ll be the single best place to get information quickly.”
Holtz-Eakin declined to comment on how many situations he would draw up estimates for, because “the work is not yet done.”
There has already been one Supreme Court statement misfire. Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a Republican running for Senate, mistakenly posted four videos to his Web site, all reacting to different ways in which the Supreme Court could rule. The videos were pulled from the candidate’s site after Politico reported on them.
“Like the vast majority of Hoosiers, Richard hopes the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare, which our opponent Joe Donnelly dutifully supported,” Mourdock spokesman Chris Conner wrote in a statement. “But as the Boy Scouts say, ‘be prepared.’ ”
That motto looks to have taken hold elsewhere in the country, with schedules set for the day of the Supreme Court ruling — without anyone knowing which day, exactly, it will be.
Anthony Wright, the executive director of the California-based nonprofit Health Access, has made numerous radio bookings for whenever the decision drops.
“My [days next week] are all in pencil,” Wright said Friday. “We’re a big state, with a lot of media markets, and we’re already hearing from a lot of stations that want to have something prepared.”
At Families USA, the preparation process began weeks ago when Pollack wrote up first drafts of seven separate statements. The nonprofit’s legal, health-policy and communications team then went over the memos.
Pollack has been going to the Supreme Court each day opinions get issued, traditionally on Monday but sometimes Thursday. Each time, he has a communications staff member on hand carrying all of the seven — now eight — releases.
At the Families USA office in Washington, another staff member waits for the go-ahead to send out the right release.
“Our goal is to have the statement out within minutes of the decision,” Pollack said. “The moment we know which statement is relevant, we’ll be sending it out.”