Democrats push for health law rooted in demographics

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WASHINGTON — While much of America was upset about the botched rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, most Democrats in Congress were still willing to give the law a chance to work.

Without the law, many of their constituents wouldn’t have health insurance.

No new law has been more polarizing during Obama’s presidency. It passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote, and GOP lawmakers have been railing against it ever since.

House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of the law. Almost all of their changes died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Why do Democrats and Republicans view this law so differently? Ideology plays a big role — Democrats are generally more willing than Republicans to look to government to help address people’s problems.

Demographics shape the debate, too.

If a community has a large concentration of people without health insurance, there is a good chance it is represented by a Democrat in Congress. Of the 50 congressional districts with the most uninsured people, all but nine are represented by Democrats.

“Folks look at (the law) as a chance to have some peace of mind that, as I keep saying because it’s so true in my district, that they don’t have to worry about sending their son or daughter to the hospital with the fear that when they come home, they’re also going to get a bill that will drive them into personal bankruptcy,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. “It’s real. These are folks often living paycheck to paycheck.”

About 251,000 people in Becerra’s Los Angeles district — more than 36 percent — didn’t have health insurance in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. That’s the third-highest rate in Congress.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, had the highest rate — 39 percent of his district. He has been working with groups in Texas to help people enroll in the new program.

The health care law is expected to provide coverage to an additional 25 million people by 2016, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. At that point, 91 percent of American citizens and legal residents would have coverage.

Nevertheless, even Republicans with large numbers of uninsured constituents don’t like the law. They contend that the law’s mix of taxes and mandates is killing jobs while making health insurance more expensive for many.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to repeal Obamacare in order to protect Americans’ access to the care they need, from the doctors they choose, at a price they can afford,” Rep Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., says on his website.

More than 32 percent of Diaz-Balart’s south Florida district didn’t have health insurance in 2012, the most for any Republican member of Congress.

In the average House district represented by a Democrat, 16 percent of residents had no health insurance in 2012, according to census data. In the average Republican district, 14.4 percent had no insurance.

The averages are that close in part because Democrats also represent the nine congressional districts with the fewest number of uninsured. All nine are in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts passed its version of the health law in 2006, when former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was governor. By 2012, only 4.3 percent of Massachusetts residents had no health insurance, the lowest rate in the nation.

“It’s the state version of the Affordable Care Act,” Becerra said. “So for all those who say that this isn’t going to work, you just have to look at the experience in Massachusetts to know that, give it time, and it will not only work but work well.”


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