Mary Landrieu needs some good news from the federal health care law – and soon – or an issue that’s already tricky for the Democratic U.S. senator’s 2014 re-election bid threatens to become a tough hurdle for her campaign.
The federally-run website allowing Louisiana residents to sign up for insurance coverage has been dogged with problems. At least 93,000 people in her home state face insurance cancellations because of the federal law. And the state’s Republican governor has made sure hundreds of thousands of people who could have received free insurance won’t get that benefit.
In a state where President Barack Obama and his health care reform poll as highly unpopular, Landrieu needs something positive to show for the law if she’s going to be able to explain her vote that helped pass it and her continuing, strong defense of it.
The three-term senator has a bit of time. The election is still a year away.
But Obama also has realized the trouble the problem-plagued health care rollout could have for the election for Landrieu and other Senate Democrats. He met with them last week to describe planned fixes for the website. Landrieu wouldn’t comment on the meeting.
Her chief Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, has seized on the rollout of the health law to blast her. He’s used the problems to steer attention away from his own difficulties and questions about his conservative credentials within the GOP.
Cassidy, an opponent of the law known as the Affordable Care Act, has repeatedly voted to repeal it. In recent days, his campaign launched its first attack ad against Landrieu, an online spot that seeks to direct ire over the health revamp to the state’s senior senator.
“As the deciding vote for Obamacare, Mary Landrieu is in a panic, not for you, but for her own political career. Typical Washington politician,” a narrator says in the Cassidy ad.
While as many as 344,000 Louisianians are estimated to be eligible for subsidies to buy insurance through the federal online marketplace, the website’s launch has been plagued by glitches making it difficult to sign up for coverage. The marketplace offers insurance options for people who are uninsured or who currently pay for individual policies.
The website problems are expected to eventually be fixed. That’s the easier hurdle for Landrieu to move past.
But another piece of the health care law rollout appears to contradict statements made by the president and repeated by Landrieu during debate on the law: assurances that if people were content with their health insurance policy, they could keep it under the health overhaul.
That hasn’t happened. Instead, insurance companies have sent millions of cancellation notices to individual policy holders.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon’s office said nearly 93,000 people in Louisiana won’t be able to keep their current insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act because the policies don’t meet minimum federal requirements for coverage.
Landrieu stayed staunch in her support of the federal health overhaul during the website computer glitches, but she clearly understands the trouble the wave of canceled insurance policies can cause her. She’s introduced a bill to permit insurers to reinstate the canceled plans.
“A promise was made, and this legislation will ensure that this promise is kept,” Landrieu said in a statement.
The proposal has yet to gain significant traction with Democrats who would be needed to pass it, however.
Back home, Landrieu’s not getting help in framing some benefits of the federal health law from Louisiana’s other top leaders, most of whom are Republicans opposed to the overhaul.
For example, Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program under the law, rejecting billions of federal dollars that could have been used to give free health insurance to as many as 400,000 uninsured people, mainly the working poor. He also refused to let the state run its own online marketplace for residents to shop for coverage.
That leaves Landrieu largely on her own to defend her health care vote, waiting and hoping for good news.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.