U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is among a group of Senate and House Democrats teaming with the White House on a campaign to tout benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
The White House and Democratic allies will highlight a potential benefit of President Obama's health care law each day, aiming to remind voters of elements that Democrats say would disappear if Republican repeal efforts are successful.
The Obama administration is hoping the strategy will help shift public opinion after the law's rocky rollout.
Though a majority of Democratic and independent voters don’t support Republican efforts to repeal or defund the law, national polls show the electorate isn’t happy with the Affordable Care Act’s problems.
Millions of Americans, including an estimated 140,000 Minnesotans, have received cancellation notices from their health insurance companies, violating a key promise from the president that if “you like your plan you can keep it.”
Democrats acknowledge the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Ellison predicted that people will turn their attention to the law's benefits as the healthcare.gov website's troubles diminish.
“I’m working to make sure Minnesotans and working families around the country have the facts about health care reform,” Ellison said in a statement. “Now individuals and families will have free preventive care, no more lifetime cost limits, and an end to the days when insurance companies could take away your health care when you got sick.”
The messaging will continue until December 23, the deadline for people to enroll for January coverage.
Thus far, Republicans have mocked the effort, saying they’re ready to train the spotlight on the law’s shortcomings. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of U.S. House Republicans, said the “strike team” that Ellison belongs to is “Congress’ liberal all-star team.”
“We look forward to talking about the law even more than Democrats do,” said Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
A slight majority of Minnesota voters expressed disapproval of President Obama’s health care law, known as Obamacare, according to a poll commissioned by the conservative Minnesota Jobs Coalition.
The partly automated telephone poll of 400 likely voters, conducted this week by the Tarrance Group, found that 51 percent disapprove of the law, compared to 43 percent who approve. Strong opposition stood at 43 percent, compared to strong support at 29 percent.
The poll, coming in the midst of a very shaky rollout for the new health care law, reflected strong partisan differences. But, tellingly, independents broke against the law 2 to 1, the poll found.
The poll did not measure how many of those who said they dislike the law did so because of problems with the government Web site or because they would like to see its provisions go farther.
The same poll found diminished support for Sen. Al Franken, with 45 percent saying he deserves reelection next year, compared to 43 percent who say it’s time to “give a new person a chance.”
A Public Policy Polling survey last month found Franken’s approval rating among registered voters in Minnesota is at 51/43, almost identical to his 51/42 approval rating in their polls last May.
Public Policy Polling is generally regarded as a Democratic firm; Tarrance is more commonly used by Republicans.
The Tarrance poll found voters more evenly divided on Gov. Mark Dayton. It found 45 percent saying he deserves reelection, versus 45 percent who would like to give someone else a chance.
The poll, which also found that 60 percent of Minnesota voters think the country is headed down the “wrong track,” included both automated calls to landlines and live calls to cell phones. It had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5 percent.
While President Obama was tweaking the Affordable Care Act Thursday to extend expiring insurance policies for another year, U.S. Rep. John Kline was holding a hearing in his Education and Workforce Committee to explore another potential pitfall of the law.
In a new challenge to the health care overhaul, the Minnesota Republican has been highlighting the financial burden that it could impose on school districts and colleges that have to comply with the federal mandate to provide coverage for their employees.
Though the mandate has been pushed back a year, educators and school district officials from around the nation warned of the unintended budget consequences of covering part-time and semi-part workers such as teaching aides, adjunct instructors, cooks, bus drivers and others who work more than 30 hours a week.
A recent analysis of Minnesota Education Department data by the conservative-leaning Watchdog Minnesota found that 22,800 non-licensed school employees work between 30 and 39 hours a week, making them eligible for required benefits under the new health law.
State education officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Critics of the law warn that the 30-hour threshold will force schools, just like other employers, to limit hours, cut jobs, or incur greater costs.
While some educators have asked that the coverage threshold be raised to 40 hours, Democrats on the committee argued that the change would hurt part-time workers who will otherwise be insured.
Kline argues that the law’s employer mandate could hurt the educational system at all levels. “Americans continue to express their concerns about Obamacare and the troubling impact it is having on their lives,” Kline said in the lead-up to the hearing. “Our nation’s schools are not immune to the consequences of this law.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken was among the Senate Democrats who met with President Obama and Vice President Biden on Wednesday to talk about the federal health care overhaul and “existing challenges with implementation of the Affordable Care Act," according to the White House.
Franken said he expressed his displeasure at the meeting.
“I, along with the Senators at the meeting, expressed frustration with the performance of the federal website," he said in a statement released from his office.
"I also made it clear that, while MNsure.org appears to be running more smoothly than the federal website, I want to make certain that the pieces of the federal system that interface with MNsure are working as well as possible," said Franken, who was among 16 senators who met with Obama.
Although Franken has been a supporter of ObamaCare, according to one report, he was “visibly agitated” last month when meeting with Obama’s chief of staff to discuss the problem with the roll out.
On Wednesday he said: "I will continue to hold the Administration accountable as it fixes the federal site."
According to the White House, during the meeting:
"The President emphasized that he shared the Senators’ commitment to ensuring that Americans who want to enroll in health insurance through the Marketplaces are able to do so in time for insurance coverage to start as early as January 1st, and throughout the open enrollment period which goes through March 31. He also discussed ongoing efforts to ramp up communication and education outreach to consumers who have received or might receive letters about how their individual market plans might be affected. In addition, the President also reiterated that the Administration is working to protect the privacy and security of consumers and to ensure that online Marketplace applications are protected by stringent security standards, with ongoing testing to help safeguard personal information."
Star Tribune reporter Kevin Diaz contributed to this report.
The web site for Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, MNsure, gets a thumbs down in a national study of usability issues and consumer experience for people trying to buy insurance under the new health care law.
The study by HealthPocket.com, a free site that rates health plans, comes amid a wave of bad publicity over technical glitches that have plagued the federal health care exchanges that rolled out Oct. 1. MNsure also was hit by a security snafu last month when an employee accidentally emailed private data to an insurance agent.
But the problems found by HealthPocket are of a lower order of magnitude, focusing mainly on the ease of online shopping and phone support.
Among the snags: testers found that the MNsure site requires a comparatively high number of steps, or clicks, to arrive at a screen that compares insurance plans. From the report: “Among single web site exchanges with anonymous [no registration required] health plan comparisons, testers found Minnesota’s exchange, MNsure, had the most steps at 18.”
The problem with that is that in the world of online shopping, more steps increase the risk of web site visitors giving up.
Another shortcoming was that HealthPocket testers, on average, took slightly longer at 11 minutes to reach a live customer service representative to ask questions about MNsure. The average in other states is about two minutes.
Analysts said these defects can be significant for people struggling to understand the law and its requirements. “You can’t always assume high levels of consumer expertise or familiarity with health reform legislation,” said Kevin Coleman, head of research and data at HealthPocket.com.
Officials at MNsure said that while they are constantly striving to improve the site, Minnesotans seem to be finding what they need. As of Wednesday, 3,769 people had enrolled in health insurance plans through the exchange, and 406 had bought insurance. In addition, 5,569 had completed applications on behalf of 11,684 people, almost 10 percent of the statewide goal of 135,153 -- just two weeks into the six-month enrollment period.
“The HealthPocket survey is one view of things,” said MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough. “However, Minnesotans are navigating MNsure and they are securing health insurance.”
The report notes that all the state exchanges do not use the same underlying software system. In all, 36 states use the federal government’s Healthcare.gov technology for their health plan comparisons and enrollment functionality, with the remaining states administering their own web sites.
Consumer advocates have been pressing for more and better information to help consumers navigate the law, which critics dub "Obamacare." Many of the sites fail to give consumers basic information about subsidy estimates, out of pocket costs, and doctor networks, according to Robert Krughoff, founder and president of Center for the Study of Services/Consumers' CHECKBOOK.
"The architecture of the web site is very important," he said, "but so is the content."