It's been more than two years since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act and more than two months since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the guts of it are constitutional. Finally Democrats this week are starting to defend and promote the landmark legislation, even embracing the Republican slang, Obamacare. It's about time. If President Barack Obama is going to persuade the American people to elect him to a second term, he needs to sell them on the positives of his signature legislative achievement.
So hard-fought was the vote on health care reform that almost since it became law the president and congressional Democrats have been underselling it. That allowed Republicans to recast the debate, ignoring the growing uninsured crisis, and win the 2010 midterm elections. Now Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has promised to repeal the law if elected — but has yet to offer any workable alternative for uninsured Americans, including more than one in five Floridians.
But Democrats' reticence is finally past. Since the Democratic National Convention opened Tuesday, the party has spent significant time, both on stage and through countless Obama surrogates, sending this simple message: You may not think you need health care reform, but your neighbor does, or your parent does, or your child does. And you very well may need it one day yourself.
The most effective deliveries came Tuesday night on stage, when through appearances and videos average Americans recounted how their lives have been or could have been improved by the law. There was the story of the young couple headed to bankruptcy because of the wife's illness until the law eliminated the lifetime cap on health care benefits; the precious preschooler who will be able to get the future surgery she needs for her heart condition because she can't be denied insurance due to a pre-existing condition; the young man who was a teenager when his uninsured father died of pneumonia after he delayed seeking treatment because they couldn't afford it.
Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith told the Florida delegation how just three weeks earlier his 25-year-old son, a law school student, was diagnosed with cancer but received immediate care because he was still on his parents' insurance as allowed under the law. Another comfort, Smith noted, is that he also can't be denied coverage in the future. "If there's one reason we ought to win this election, and there are so many, we need to take the message out there: Affordable health care will affect your life,'' Smith said. "It's happened to me."
This is not to say the Affordable Care Act is perfect. Far from it. It doesn't do enough to control rising medical costs. And there remain long-term questions about the federal government's own expenses for Medicare and Medicaid. But Democrats need to remind voters this week just how far this president has taken the country on the road to health care reform — and how Romney wants to turn back the clock and take away benefits millions of Americans already are receiving.
Obama will likely make that case tonight as he accepts the Democratic nomination for president, but he'll need to keep making it for about nine more weeks.