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Health Care Battle Flares Anew

Some recent opinion polls show the public would like to give the law a chance to work and might be less receptive to the Republican message of “repeal and replace” than they were initially. Still, surveys show a majority of Americans remain opposed to the law, with the RealClearPolitics.com average of all polls taken from April 25 to May 29 showing 52 percent opposed and 41.5 percent in favor.

However, the administration expects that to turn around as Obama’s promotion campaign progresses. One White House official indicated that the administration’s public relations strategy involves twinning presidential events with the implementation of various aspects of the law. Tuesday’s event with seniors was timed to coincide with the mailing of $250 checks to seniors who qualified for an expansion of prescription drug coverage under Medicare as called for in the overhaul.

“Today’s town hall was just one example of our efforts, and we will continue to reach out to all Americans to discuss this landmark law,” the White House official said.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) called Obama’s public relations campaign “important” for Democrats. “When people know the truth, I think they feel better and better about it,” he said.

It’s not an accident that the health care fight reignited this week over how the new law affects Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for seniors, who are a key voting bloc and one that votes in midterm elections in greater propensity than other demographics.

The health law will cut $500 million from Medicare and end subsidies for the Medicare Advantage insurance program popular with many seniors. But it also will close a gap in funding for prescription drug coverage that had forced some seniors to pay out of pocket, and Democrats insist seniors — with Obama’s help — will come to embrace the law.

“There’s still a lot of misinformation, [with] the other side trying to continue to put out misinformation. So, as the new provisions take effect, it’s critical that the president be out there,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said.

Republicans respond that they are happy to have this debate with the president and would be thrilled if the Democrats chose to raise the subject every day between now and the Nov. 2 elections.

Sen. George LeMieux (R), whose Florida constituents include a large and politically active population of seniors, argued that voters in his state and around the country have yet to really feel the effects of the law — nor do they understand its consequences. But once they do, he said, Democrats will really feel the heat.

In particular, LeMieux predicted that the elimination of Medicare Advantage would be met with extreme unhappiness by the about 1 million Florida seniors enrolled in the program.

“The more that Floridians, and I think the rest of Americans, know about this health care law, the less there is to like,” he said. “We are going to keep talking about it. And, I think really, the more [Obama] talks about it, the more people find out they don’t like it.”

Correction: June 14, 2010

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