and its allies sought to regain control of the healthcare debate as
rolled into effect Wednesday, the face of that effort was not President
, but Mary-Therese — a Floridian who said she was diagnosed with
in 2006 and then lost her coverage.
"I’ve been waiting a long time for Jan. 1, 2014," she says in a Web ad from
But the story about the healthcare law being publicized in a new video from the campaign of Monica Wehby, a Republican making a long-shot bid against Democratic Sen. Jeff
"We heard that the Oregon Medical Insurance Plan was probably going to be closing, but we just thought I would fold into another insurance," Donna says to the camera from her kitchen in a video that accuses Merkley of misleading Oregonians about being able to keep their health plans. "We had no idea there would be this kind of time involved, or turmoil."
Those sorts of dueling stories are the next phase of the battle over Obamacare, and the question of which version Americans will find most compelling could tip the balance in a dozen or so
For much of the fall, the Obama administration and vulnerable Democratic lawmakers have been buried under stories about technical difficulties of the lurching federal insurance portal known as HealthCare.gov, and the shock waves that followed the cancellation of about 5 million plans that did not meet the law's requirements. In a frank assessment during his last news conference, the president said simply that the law got "about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine."
White House advisors think they are turning the corner with about 2.1 million people enrolled in Obamacare plans, in addition to 4 million others who have been found eligible for coverage under the law's expansion of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Starting Wednesday, the spotlight shifted, at least in part, from government mechanics to insurance companies, who will now share responsibility for handling any sign-up glitches.
But the campaign against the healthcare law — and the Democratic senators who voted for it — has been vociferous, well-financed and multi-faceted. Conservative legal strategists, who have led a multi-front march to the Supreme Court, notched a small victory on
Outside groups like
And as the 2014 races gear up, Republican Senate challengers with less money to spend — like Wehby in Oregon, Rep.
Because the healthcare law touches so many Americans, there is no shortage of stories on both sides.
A Wehby aide said one of the women featured in the campaign's video is the mother of one of Wehby's former patients (the candidate is a pediatric neurosurgeon). She contacted the campaign through Facebook after watching her health insurance premiums rise and her network of doctors shrink over the last year, changes that she believes result from broader shifts in the healthcare system because of the new law.
Last fall, Republican operatives used robocalls, Web ads, social media and billboards to bludgeon Democratic senators who used variations of Obama's line that those who liked their health insurance plans could keep them. The new Wehby video closes with a clip of Merkley comparing the healthcare system to a Rubik's cube that he holds in his hand: "Healthcare is not a game," the ad says.
Merkley's seat is considered to be relatively safe in a solid blue state. The freshman senator won in 2008 with 48.9% of the vote to 45.6% for his closest challenger, but Oregon's disastrous problems with its health insurance marketplace, where consumers still cannot sign up online, have given his challengers an opening.
Asked about the criticism of Obamacare and Oregon's troubles, a spokesman for Merkley said the senator was focused "on ensuring that Oregonians have access to health insurance."
"No one should go without health insurance due to Cover Oregon's mistakes. That is why he supports allowing people to sign up for coverage into January, with coverage retroactive to Jan. 1," Merkley spokesman Matt McNally said.
After being skewered for moving too slowly when the healthcare law's problems moved into the public eye, the White House and partners like Organizing for Action are trying to be more proactive in this second phase, arming their allies with resources to help resolve post-Jan. 1 insurance glitches quickly. A White House tip sheet issued Tuesday, for example, offered telephone numbers for consumers to call for help if their medical provider is unable to locate their information.
And now that coverage is in effect, they hope to draw more attention to the stories they have been culling over the last month — like that of Mary-Therese, who was featured in a three-minute video montage of Americans who successfully signed up for coverage under the new law.
"For decades millions of Americans have not had access to quality affordable healthcare," the ad says as pictures of newly covered individuals pop from a map of the United States. "This is why the Affordable Care Act matters. Millions of Americans now have the peace of mind and security of being insured."
Organizing for Action operatives say they plan to roll out many more of those stories as the months go on; no doubt with Republicans countering with stories of their own.