Before Supreme Court justices weigh the fate of the 2010 health-care overhaul this month, the White House is helping to coordinate efforts to showcase the law’s most popular provisions and blunt relentless Republican attacks.
Dozens of consumer, church and public health groups plan events including a prayer vigil to rally support for the health- care overhaul as the Supreme Court holds arguments on the measure March 26 to 28. About 100 supporters met at the White House on March 7 to discuss a coordinated response, according to an administration official who declined to speak on the record because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the gathering.
The public remains divided on the merits of the law almost two years after President Barack Obama signed it. Though many provisions don’t take effect until 2014, the events are designed to shed light on parts of law already benefiting voters.
It’s a “significant teaching opportunity,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group in Washington. “There has been so much mythology created, not least of which by the Republican candidates for president who simply repeat the mantra ‘Repeal Obamacare,’” he said.
The court is considering a challenge brought by 26 states to the law’s mandate that most American buy health coverage and its expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor.
Proponents plan to showcase rules in the law allowing dependents age 26 and under to stay on their parents’ health plans and barring insurers from making coverage decisions against people with preexisting conditions.
One opponent of the law has already said it will bus people from as far as Michigan to rally against the measure. Americans For Prosperity, a nonprofit supporting Republican candidates and policies, will hold a “Hands Off My Health Care Rally” in a park near the court on the second day of arguments.
Nick Papas, a White House spokesman, confirmed the meeting took place and declined to identify the groups that attended the meeting or provide other details. The White House has hosted previous gatherings of supporters of the health-care law, Pollack said.
The groups were brought to the White House so the administration could get “a full picture” of the activities planned during court arguments and the law’s second anniversary on March 23, said Ethan Rome, executive director of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now in Washington.
“It is helpful for them to get a full sense of the depth and breadth of what the health care reform community is doing.”
Families USA, Rome’s group and others including the United Methodist Church were already planning a series of events during the Supreme Court arguments.
At about 11 a.m. on the first day of the arguments, the Methodist church is arranging for faith leaders of different denominations to circle the court in a prayer vigil.
Families USA will set up a “radio row” in a building owned by the Methodist church across the street from the court, where 24 talk show hosts will broadcast during the arguments.
Another event will feature a tent in which doctors, nurses and patients will discuss how they’ve been helped by the law, Pollack said.
FreedomWorks, an activist group led by former House Republican Leader Dick Armey, is encouraging its members to come to Washington for rallies associated with the hearing and also visit lawmakers to “remind them of the importance of repealing Obamacare,” said Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for the group.
Rome predicted a “judicial battle royale of epic proportions” during court arguments. “There’s not any precedent for this,” he said.
A Gallup poll of 1,040 adults conducted Feb. 20 and 21 found 72 percent of respondents believe a central provision in the law mandating that most Americans buy health coverage or pay a fine is unconstitutional. Among people who identified themselves as independents, 33 percent said the law won’t make a difference in their lives while 35 percent said it will make things worse.
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