One of the biggest mysteries in the endless political battle over Obamacare is why President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats haven't more aggressively and effectively touted the law's protections for consumers against being denied coverage and treatment by insurers.
Many if not most Americans have experienced fights with health insurers over coverage, and it's safe to say insurers are not well-loved by the public. Yet Republicans are counting on their attacks against the Affordable Care Act to carry them to November election victories that will hand them control of the Senate and greater leverage to roll back the healthcare reform law.
Now, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who's facing a tough re-election contest against a Republican who is attacking him for supporting the ACA, has come out with an emotionally powerful ad discussing his personal healthcare experience showing the need for the law. He appears with his father, David Pryor, the popular former Arkansas senator and governor, talking about his bout in 1997 with a rare form of cancer called clear-cell sarcoma. They highlight the family's fight to get Mark's insurer to cover the experimental operation that saved his lower leg.
“When Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we thought we might lose him,” David Pryor says in the ad. “But you know what? Mark's insurance company didn't want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.”
Mark chimes in: “No one should be fighting an insurance company while you're fighting for your life. That's why I helped pass a law to prevent insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
Asked about the ad, Pryor's opponent, Tom Cotton, didn't criticize it or directly address the issue Pryor raised. Instead, he agreed that the U.S. health insurance system had problems prior to passage of the reform law. “I will say the healthcare system was broken five years ago,” Cotton said at a news conference Wednesday, citing the fact that people with pre-existing conditions had trouble obtaining coverage. But then he went on to say that “What we have to do is repeal Obamacare, start over, and get it right.” He did not say how he would address the issue of covering people who have pre-existing conditions.
Cotton faces a political predicament because Arkansas has experienced a sharp drop in its uninsured rate—from 22.5% in 2013 to 12.4% in mid-2014—because of Obamacare's Medicaid and private coverage expansion. Like other Republican Senate candidates in states where Medicaid expansion has extended coverage to hundreds of thousands of residents, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Cotton has dodged when asked whether he supports keeping the expansion.
The challenge of attacking a law that has benefited lots of voters may be why Republicans have reduced their anti-Obamacare advertising. It was the top subject of issue ads earlier this year in the Senate battleground states of Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. By July, it had dropped sharply in all three states, according to Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Follow Harris Meyer on Twitter: @MHHmeyer