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With Supreme Court victory, Obama now needs to sell health care

Jonathan P Hicks | 7/6/2012, 11:27 a.m.
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As a presidential achievement in modern times, it would be hard to recall one that eclipses the Affordable Care Act, the landmark overhaul of the health care system in the United States.

The quest to make health care more accessible and affordable has been the focus of presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt came to office in 1933. It was a particular focus of the administration of President Bill Clinton, who considered it so important that he assigned his wife to help develop a strategy for the country to adopt universal health care.

It took the presidency of Barack Obama to usher into law the health care reform that had somehow eluded his predecessors. In the last week, his administration's achievement in health care was validated by the United States Supreme Court, which upheld Obama's overhaul of the health care law by a vote of 5 to 4, with the conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voting with the court's four more liberal justices.

With the court challenge to that achievement behind him, Obama and his surrogates now need to engage in a public education campaign on a level that they have not undertaken since the passage of the bill into law.

Obama and his surrogates have largely failed in the last three years to highlight the features of this landmark legislation. Polls have consistently shown that when people are asked about specific aspects of the law, they tend to favor them--often by large margins. Yet the administration and its allies have been ineffective in conveying to the American public the features of the legislation that make health care more reasonable, more accessible and more affordable.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's ruling, with the nation's attention focused on health care and public support for the health care overhaul on the rise, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, this is the time to help the public understand the benefits of the law

Obama has for too long allowed the Republican right to demonize the health care legislation and to define it nationally on their own terms. The president's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has taken great pains to condemn the health care overhaul, despite the fact that it mirrors the very changes he championed when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Because of that, his call to "repeal and replace" the law smacks of hollow, insincere and politically opportunistic campaign rhetoric, fueled by his passion for having the approval and support of right-wing zealots.

The administration needs to vigorously tout its signature legislative accomplishment--in detail. Obama and his surrogates need to highlight the fact that the law requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance for their employees, while providing tax credits to those small businesses that do so; that it makes preventive services more affordable by eliminating co-pays and deductibles for many services; that it helps seniors with their prescription drug costs; and that it allows children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26.

They need to let the public know--through vivid testimonies--how the law improves health care access for millions of uninsured Americans by expanding Medicaid and eliminating exclusions from coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

This is a big win for the president. More than that, it's a big win for the American people. Obama simply needs to intensify his efforts to make that point abundantly clear to the public.