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This Time, Health Care Advocates Have Edge

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Last year, protesters rallied against passage of the health care overhaul. But now that it’s law, advocates of the law say they can win the battle of public relations over opponents who hope for repeal.

For advocacy groups on both sides of the health care debate, the new year rings in a rerun of the past, as a contentious debate begins over Republican legislation to repeal the sweeping health care law.

But this time, liberal coalitions who spent much of last year on the defensive are confident they can win the public relations battle over repeal efforts. In a coordinated response with the White House and Congressional Democrats, liberal groups have a simple message: Repealing the Affordable Care Act will eliminate new benefits, such as filling the gap in Medicare’s drug subsidy for seniors.

“If you repeal it, are you going to ask folks to give their money back?” said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, which has been orchestrating efforts among unions, seniors groups and other liberal organizations.

The groups, which met Tuesday to plot strategy, have scheduled events around the country to oppose repeal and organize call-ins to House Members’ offices.

“We see this as a real opportunity to explain all the benefits and rights people will receive,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal health care advocacy organization.

These groups, some of whom last year were at odds with the administration and Congressional leaders over issues such as the public option, say they are more unified in their message.

“We’ve all come to terms with differences we’ve had over details,” said Bill Samuel, director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO.

“I think you will see far more discipline about this,” Pollack said.

Still, opponents of the law will be rallying their members to pressure House Members to vote for the repeal. The House GOP leadership has scheduled the vote for Jan. 12.

“This is our No. 1 priority. We are going to go all-out,” said Dean Clancy, vice president of health care policy for FreedomWorks, the tea-party-affiliated group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). His group, which sponsored several rallies last year opposing the health care measure, is considering a press event on Capitol Hill on the day of the vote.

The National Federation of Independent Business is also lobbying for repeal, sending action alerts to its members to call lawmakers.

“For our group, it is not symbolic. It is about the bottom line,” NFIB spokeswoman Stephanie Cathcart said. NFIB will include the repeal in its key votes for the session, she said.

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