The health reform battle comes home

The battle to pass health-care reform is over. The campaign to explain, defend and sell reform to voters in the run-up to the 2010 election is under way.

Home for the spring recess, members of Connecticut’s Democratic congressional delegation are on the road, led by a senior member who has given up on his own re-election, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.

Dodd, who was given the fifth of the 22 commemorative pens President Obama used to sign the bill into law last week, headlined a rally in Hartford on Monday and will appear in Groton today and Milford on Wednesday.

“Beginning this year, you cannot preclude a child in Connecticut from getting health-care coverage because of a pre-existing condition,” Dodd said in an appearance with 1st District U.S. Rep. John B. Larson at Capital Community College. “That is a major breakthrough.”

Larson and Dodd, 3-29-10

U.S. Rep. John Larson greets a supporter as Sen. Chris Dodd confers with aide Ryan Drajewicz at a health care event in Hartford Monday (Mark Pazniokas)

Today, Dodd will join U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2nd District in Groton to explain how the new law will benefit seniors this year and what provisions will phase in over the next four years.

All five members of the state’s House delegation voted for the measure, and Larson and Rosa DeLauro of the 3rd District helped negotiate its final form.

“We’re going to continue to meet with small businessmen and go out and do the talk shows, get on the education bandwagon and just go through it,” said Larson. “It’s a complicated bill.”

Polls released Monday show that Obama and congressional Democrats have not won the post-passage public-relations war, despite some polling gains immediately after last week’s victory.

“Larson and Dodd and Rosa can do all the high-fiving and trash-talking they want,” said Chris Healy, the Republican state chairman. “But it will be interesting to see if the poll numbers come back to where they were after this little blip.”

A new Rasmussen Poll showed that opinions on health care are remaining steady a week after passage, with 54 percent favoring repeal and 42 percent opposed.

A USA Today/ Gallup poll last week showed 49 percent of voters viewed passage as a “good thing” and 40 percent as a “bad thing,” but a new poll Monday showed that 50 percent view it as bad and 47 percent as good.

Larson returned to his Hartford-area district Friday and immediately held a health-care event at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

On Monday, Larson and Dodd addressed an audience that included health-reform advocates, organized labor, small-business owners and a smattering of students. It was part-victory lap, part campaign rally.

Tom Swan, the executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, called passage a proud moment for Connecticut, given the leadership roles played by Dodd, Larson and DeLauro.

“We were the largest delegation in the entire House that everybody voted in favor of this plan,” he said.

“It’s pretty magical, and I still have to pinch myself, that it’s becoming a reality,” said Swan, a long-time advocate of health reform.

Larson, who is the 4th ranking member of the House, said the Democrats’ emphasis this week will be on explaining those parts of the bill that take effect immediately.

They include popular provisions, such as a ban on denial of care for pre-existing conditions, allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26, and small-business tax credits to off set the cost of health coverage.

“Cherry picking the good things doesn’t get you past the huge shift this will be toward what the Democrats want, which is a single-payer system run by the government,” Healy said. “That’s the Democrats’ end game.”

Larson said Democrats will be trying to convince voters that the health-reform hardly is a government takeover.

“They’ve heard so much misinformation,” Larson said. “It’s been drummed up that it’s a government takeover. Where is this government takeover? What are we taking over? I noticed that all the insurance companies’ stock are up, as a matter of fact.”

Larson said congressional Democrats can sell reform if they continue to get White House support.

“As long as the guy on Pennsylvania Avenue stays out there, he’s the strongest persuader that we have,” Larson said. “He has a way of taking things and boiling them down, so that people get it and they understand. It’s going to be an ongoing effort.”