Why is Obama still pushing health-care reform?

President Obama is still trying to win over public opinion on health-care reform. On Tuesday, he told Maryland seniors that $250 checks aimed at plugging the 'doughnut hole' in prescription drug coverage hit the mail June 10.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama speaks to Maryland seniors Tuesday about benefits they can expect from the health-care reform legislation. 'Doughnut hole' prescription drug coverage checks go in the mail June 10 for qualifying seniors.

Health-care reform has been the law of the land since March 23. So why is President Obama continuing to promote it?

On Tuesday, Obama held a town hall meeting on health care at a Maryland senior center. He talked about the $250 check the newly-passed legislation will send to seniors who fall into Medicare’s “doughnut hole” gap in prescription drug coverage, and answered questions about the bill’s general impact.

Polls show Americans remain split in their opinion of Obama’s health care effort, so the administration is trying to quiet voter doubts in advance of fall mid-term elections. Since many of the bill’s major changes don’t take effect for years, officials are highlighting those things that happen soon – such as the “doughnut hole” rebate – in their attempt to garner favorable public opinion.

"We’re moving quickly and carefully to implement this law,” Obama told the crowd at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in suburban Wheaton.

It’s been easy to overlook with all the attention devoted to events in the Gulf of Mexico, but health-care reform remains a contentious issue in Washington. Republicans are convinced that the relative unpopularity of the health-care bill will help them make big gains in November.

Many GOP lawmakers say they won’t rest until the law is repealed. They have attacked Donald Berwick, Obama’s nominee to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as someone eager to bring European-style government health systems to the US. The health-care reform bill is too expensive, too intrusive, and unworkable, say Republican leaders.

“The health care law is a recipe for fewer choices, more dictates from Washington, and higher costs for less access to quality care,” said Republican Study Committee chairman Rep. Tom Price of Georgia in a statement issued after Obama’s Tuesday town hall meeting.

Polls show the US on the fence in its opinion of the new law. According to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey, for example, 41 percent of respondents were very or somewhat favorable in their feelings about health-care reform. Forty four percent had very or somewhat negative feelings toward it.

Seniors in particular remain worried about how the bill will affect Medicare. On Tuesday, Obama stressed that most Medicare enrollees won’t see any change in services.

“First and foremost, what you need to know is that the guaranteed Medicare benefits that you’ve earned will not change,” said Obama.

The healthcare bill does cut government payments to insurance firms for Medicare Advantage plans by $132 billion over 10 years. These plans now receive somewhat more per person than recipients of traditional Medicare get, but they also often offer extra benefits. It’s possible these plans will change when the cuts begin to take effect in 2011.

Obama noted the Medicare Advantage reductions Tuesday in a response to a question from the audience, saying it was unfair for Advantage recipients to receive an extra subsidy that traditional Medicare recipients do not.

As to the gap in prescription drug coverage, the eight million seniors affected by it this year will each receive a $250 government check to help defray their costs, said Obama. The first batch of these checks will go in the mail on June 10.

Beginning in 2011, those in the “doughnut hole” will receive a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs. The healthcare reform bill will completely close the hole for all prescription drugs by 2020, said the president.

Asked by one senior why this move could not be accelerated, Obama said the answer was simple: money.

“It’s very expensive to close this doughnut hole,” he said.


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