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Healthcare Business News

Reform Update: Obamacare attack ads target vulnerable Democrats

By Paul Demko
Posted: December 27, 2013 - 1:45 pm ET

The calendar is yet to flip to 2014, but Democrats in swing districts are already targeted with attack ads tying them to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They are the first of what's expected to be a fusillade of spots capitalizing on the controversial healthcare law this election cycle.

Earlier this month, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a radio spot targeting Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), whose district has switched parties in each of the last three election cycles. The ad features a woman talking about her husband's chronic health problems. “Because of Obamacare, our health plan no longer exists, and our new policy doesn't cover the hospital where my husband was being treated,” she says. “I'm scared for him, and for the kids.”

Two other swing district legislators, Reps. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) and Rick Nolan, (D-Minn.), are the targets of ads attacking President Barack Obama's vow that nobody would lose their coverage under the healthcare reform law. In recent months, tens of thousands of individuals have received plan cancellation notices, and Obama apologized for misleading the public. The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity plans to spend more than $600,000 on the ads.

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The spot targeting Nolan, who defeated a GOP incumbent by 9 percentage points in 2012, features a district resident, Randy Westby, who says he's had three heart attacks in six years, and whose plan was canceled. “Congressman Nolan, Obamacare needs to be repealed,” Westby says. “It was a big lie.”

Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, suggests that such attack ads are surfacing particularly early in the election cycle because of the problem-plagued rollout of the state and federal exchanges. But he argues that such attacks may lose their potency as the glitches get fixed and people begin to enjoy the new benefits offered through the law.

“That's not a surprise,” Jacobs said of the ads. “Whether those ads are running come October is another issue.”

States withholding payments from contractors that built exchange sites

CGI Federal, the contractor that HHS and many state governments hired to work on their online insurance marketplaces, is beginning to take a financial hit for the tech woes that tripped up the launch of open enrollment.

Vermont has refused to pay $5.1 million in bills and is seeking a refund of some payments already made, according to the Boston Globe. Officials in Massachusetts say they will meet in January to discuss whether to withhold payments to the Canadian company. The exchange websites in both states have been hobbled by significant technological problems that have made signing up for coverage difficult.

CGI and other companies that worked on the exchange technology could see similar reprisals from states whose sites have malfunctioned.

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko

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