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Health Care Law Advocates Come Out Swinging

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Passion isn’t in short supply for either side of the health care challenge, but both are finding public opinion to be steadfast.

Democrats said a skeptical public would come around on the new health care law once it started to take effect. But two years and millions of dollars later, the groups that set out to convince Americans to like President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement have failed to move the needle.

While the government began defending the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to the Supreme Court on Monday, a battle over the size and scope of government played out on the street outside.

Monday marked the beginning of a three-day sprint for a carefully coordinated campaign organized by liberal groups including Health Care for America Now, Families USA, and Know Your Care and Protect Your Care, political nonprofits launched last year by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D).

In the past two years, the groups have spent nearly $25 million promoting the law — and President Barack Obama’s re-election, by default. That spending does not include the investments made by the Center for American Progress and labor unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, which helped organize this week’s activities.

Still, support for the law outside Washington is so-so at best, according to recent polls. Polls released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and by the Pew Research Center earlier this month both found virtually no change in public opinion of the law since April 2010. The Kaiser survey found that 23 percent of respondents had a “very unfavorable” opinion of the law, up from 18 percent in 2010.

Supporters of the law dominated the Supreme Court steps Monday, while tea party dissenters saved their energy for a rally targeting Congress scheduled for today. Advocates argued as they have all along that most Americans have yet to benefit from the law because it will not be fully implemented until 2014, and they say the people who already have seen benefits don’t realize the health care overhaul is the cause.

Yet many of the most-buzzed-about provisions have taken effect. Since September 2010, children have been able to stay on their parents’ health care plan until age 26. Last year, senior citizens started receiving free preventive care, and those who reached the gap in Medicare Part D coverage started receiving a 50 percent discount on their prescription drugs.

Nearly 4 million senior citizens have been helped by the change, but that represents just 10 percent of the elderly population, noted David Certner, the legislative policy director at AARP. Senior citizens are waiting to see if the other benefits they count on will change once the law is fully implemented, he said.

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