Take ten paces, turn, and fire. And fire. And fire.

The duel over healthcare reform continues to heat up. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) came in fourth on a mid-February Gallup poll of the public’s election-year issues: PPACA trailed the economy, unemployment, and the federal deficit, but led terrorism, taxation, the gap between rich and poor, immigration, and such social issues as gay marriage and abortion. (bit.ly/yZzkwh)

And a Feb. 20 Gallup poll found that public opinion on PPACA may—barely—be turning around, though it remains sharply divided: 45% of respondents called passage of the law “all in all…a good thing,” while 44% called it “a bad thing. This is a shift from last November, when 47% called PPACA bad, and 42% looked upon it and called it good. (bit.ly/xJ7gOg)

Since November, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been issuing a steady stream of upbeat reports on PPACA’s impact, provoking counterfire from the other side of the aisle, notably from the Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (EC) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP). Here are some of the press-release salvoes.

CHRONOLOGY OF A DUEL

Feb. 1. (HHS) “Medicare Advantage Premiums Down 7 Percent…Enrollment Up 10 Percent.” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces that Medicare Advantage is cutting costs and reaching more Americans.

Feb. 3. (EC) “By Temporarily Offsetting Obamacare Cuts, Administration Creates Illusion of Good News for Seniors.” The House Strikes Back, saying that “the healthcare law cuts over $200 billion from Medicare Advantage. That fact is indisputable, and its consequences are widely understood to be bad news for seniors.

Feb. 8. (HELP) “New Federal Proposal on Contraception Potentially Illegal.” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), HELP’s ranking minority member, questions the constitutionality of a proposed HHS regulation that would require health insurers, including religious organizations, to cover contraception.

Feb. 9. (HHS) “Health Reform to Require Insurers to Use Plain Language in Describing Health Plan Benefits, Coverage.” HHS credits PPACA for new regulations that require health plans to provide “concise and comprehensible information” about benefits and coverage.

Feb. 13. (HHS) “New Health Care Law Helps Expand Primary Care Physician Workforce.” Under PPACA, the National Health Service Corps’ “Students to Service Loan Repayment Program” provides $9.1 million in financial support to fourth year medical students who are committed to a career in primary care in exchange for their service in communities with limited access to care.

WELLNESS

Feb. 15. (HHS) “Affordable Care Act Extended Free Preventive Services to 54 Million Americans with Private Health Insurance in 2011; Free Preventive Care Also Provided to 32.5 Million in Medicare.” The headline says it—PPACA wellness mandates helped 86 million Americans last year.

Feb. 16. (HHS) “HHS Ensures Consumers Get Better Value for Their Health Insurance Dollar; Administration Actions Saved Consumers up to $323 Million.” Once again, HHS credits PPACA, noting that some consumers could even receive rebates on their insurance, if the plans spend less than 80 percent of their premium dollars on healthcare.

Feb. 23. (HHS) “Health Reform Law Provides Coverage For Nearly 50,000 Americans With Pre-Existing Conditions.” The department publicizes a report on PPACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) program.

COUNTERSTRIKE

Feb. 24. (EC) “As Obamacare Mandates Kick In, Insurance Premiums Spike—Three States See 20 Percent Increases.” The committee majority faults Obama for failing to fulfill a campaign pledge and lower healthcare premiums “by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year,” citing news reports that three states are now seeing premium increases of at least 20 percent.

Feb. 28. (EC) “Obamacare Mandate Could Mean Steep Fines for Employers who Freely Exercise Their Religion.” Referring throughout to “religious rights” rather than “contraception,” the Energy and Commerce majority weighs in on the early-February administration bid to require all healthcare insurers to cover birth-control. (See Feb. 8 HELP statement.) And this is from the election year’s shortest month.

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