Democrats feeling anxious about health care law’s woes

Concerns are mounting that the Affordable Care Act’s bumpy start will be costly in elections.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICENovember 1, 2013 

Health Overhaul Problems

Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Congress this week that she was surprised by the myriad problems with the health care website.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — AP

WASHINGTON — Already under attack from Republicans, President Barack Obama now faces broad Democratic worries that the troubled insurance rollout will cut into the political benefit the party received from the government shutdown.

Senate Democratic leaders summoned White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Thursday, along with the official most responsible for the health care website, Marilyn Tavenner, and the person entrusted to fix it, Jeffrey Zients. The result was a closed-door venting session.

That followed a meeting Monday between Vice President Joe Biden and worried House Democratic freshmen in the office of Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat.

It appeared that the White House would have to do more to reassure Democrats who emerged from the 16-day shutdown confident of their political fortunes, only to see Republicans roar back on a wave of anger over health care.

“People are anxious,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

“I don’t think there’s confidence by anyone in the room,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., up for re-election next year, as he emerged from the closed-door meeting in the Capitol. “This is more a show-me moment. We were all confident that the system was going to be up and operating on Oct 1. And now we’re not confident until it’s real.”

‘NOT WORKING WELL’

The anxious include not only senators and House members facing hotly contested races, but also those whose seats are safe. And the rollout has not helped lawmakers in states with Republican governors who have done nothing to promote the health care law.

“It’s not working well,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., whose state was hailed by Obama as a model for the Affordable Care Act.

Many Democrats say the Obama administration must extend the period to enroll in new plans, given the continuing problems with website access. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and 10 other Democrats have signed or endorsed a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, pleading for more time.

Shaheen told the administration officials Thursday that she had a hard time taking them at their word because they had previously assured that the rollout was going to work.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., has teamed with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to draft legislation delaying until 2015 the imposition of penalties on those who fail to buy health insurance.

The politics of the rollout are coming into clearer focus by the day, and it’s not good for Democrats.

TAKING A TOLL

The problems with the website are sending Democratic reputations plunging, just as the shutdown hurt Republicans.

Bill McInturff, an experienced Republican pollster, called the twin political disasters an “October shock wave.”

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that esteem across the country for the nation’s leaders has sunk into a morass. Forty-three percent said they strongly thought the new health care law was a bad idea, matching the highest level since it passed in 2010.

In addition, Obama’s approval rating reached the lowest of his presidency, at 42 percent in the poll.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., conceded that health care problems were taking a toll on Democrats.

“Certainly the difficulties in the rollout have somewhat diminished the advantage we got out of the shutdown by the tea party and the attempted flirtation with default,” Schumer said.

But he claimed that the shutdown aftermath would be more meaningful.

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