WASHINGTON — The war over health care is being waged all over again.
Supporters and opponents of the still-controversial Affordable Care Act are battling for American eyeballs in an advertising and outreach war, reminiscent of the 2009 political fight when Congress debated the legislation.
The two sides will spend $500 million trying to convince citizens to embrace or defy the law in the next few months and through early next year, according to industry publication Ad Age. That’s because President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care plan will move from theory to reality for millions of Americans as the online marketplaces, also known are exchanges, where people buy insurance, open in October.
Groups without the means or the expertise to launch ads are finding their own way to grab attention.
The conservative Heritage Action for America is hosting the Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour, with a stop in Tampa later this month.
“The goal is to thwart the administration’s drive to get millions of people into the exchange by April. We hope to hasten the collapse of the exchanges by educating young adults as to why Obamacare is a raw deal for them,” said Dean Clancy, vice president of health care policy at FreedomWorks, another conservative organization.
The liberal group Protect Your Care is staking out town hall meetings hosted by Republican members of Congress who want to stop funding for the health care act and confronting them.
And nurses from the SEIU, the largest healthcare union in North America, are leading outreach efforts to educate their patients and others in the community about the law in time for the enrollment opening.
Time is running out for those who want to repeal the law before any more significant benefits take effect.
“This is really why you’re seeing and hearing the last gasp of Republicans trying to repeal the law,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change.
Once Americans get a look at the full benefits under the law, repeal is “going to be impossible to do,” he said.
Many conservatives agree they must act now.
FreedomWorks is holding Obamacare card-burning parties. The organization created an Obamacare card, designed to look like a 1960s-era draft card. While the group takes video, it encourages young adults, in particular, to burn their Obamacare card and pledge not to buy insurance through the marketplace.
Twenty- and thirty-somethings are particularly desirable to both sides of the debate. In order to keep premiums from skyrocketing, young people must sign up for coverage to balance out older Americans and those who are already ill, who are expected to flock to guaranteed health coverage.
The push to reach out to young Americans is part of a three-pronged strategy to “reverse the Washington health care takeover,” Clancy said. “We call it defund, delay and defy.”
His group is working with a handful of members of Congress, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who propose shutting down the government if they can’t get Congress to pass a budget withdrawing funding for the health care law. FreedomWorks is also pushing legislation to roll back key provisions of the law, delaying its full implementation.
Liberals have their own multi-media campaign in support of the health care law.
“We have two very specific mandates for our work: to promote the benefits and say how Republicans would screw people out of them,” Woodhouse said. “We’re going to put every tactic on the table.”
They will engage in “rapid response” to what Woodhouse believes are “mythical” interpretations of the law, put forth by Republicans. That might mean running a national ad, publishing a Web video, passing out signs or staking out a town hall where a member of Congress is expected to speak.
Americans United for Change is now running a spot called “Hands Off Obamacare.”
The ad says: “Republicans want to take your benefits away and put insurance companies back in charge.”
Woodhouse would not say how much his organization has to spend on the effort.
“We’re not going to tell the Koch brothers or Karl Rove how much we have,” Woodhouse said.
But he added that it has raised enough money to place organizers in 10 states, including Florida. The organizers will host press events and seek to mobilize supporters of the law.
Conservatives are also claiming the airwaves.
Americans for Prosperity, backed by billionaires David and Bill Koch, spent about $700,000 on its first ad last month, featuring a pregnant woman raising concerns about the health care law stripping away her right to choose her own doctor, according to the Washington Post. The law does not contain such a provision.
The group has run a second ad -- this woman with a doctor concerned about how the law will affect her patients.
“The reason the fight continues is because the impact of the law is going to be so widespread from the enrollees in the exchange, to the Medicaid population, to Medicare beneficiaries who are going to experience difficulty getting care because of Obamacare cuts, to the (citizens) who are going to pay 18 new taxes. Every constituency has something to lose here,” said Alyene Senger, a health care researcher at the Heritage Foundation, the policy arm of Heritage Action.
Liberals believe that it is just as imperative now for them to get out their message.
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