By Caren Bohan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With the Obamacare website performing better, congressional Republicans on Wednesday returned to their broader attack on President Barack Obama's healthcare law, warning that it would harm the quality of medical care and drive up costs.
They used hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives to highlight what they say are flaws in the 2010 Affordable Care Act that go beyond the potentially transitory issues of the website, HealthCare.gov, and cancellations of several million insurance policies that did not meet the law's standards.
Repeating predictions they have been making since the law was being debated in Congress in 2009, Republicans said it would end up restricting consumers' choices of doctors and would ultimately saddle families and businesses with higher premiums.
"The Affordable Care Act's fundamental problems can't be fixed with better marketing. The flaw is not the website. The flaw is the law itself," said Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health.
"Looking forward, the flaws in the law itself may prove to be getting worse, not better," Brady, a Texas Republican, said during a subcommittee hearing.
Republicans view the problems with Obamacare as a potent weapon against Democrats in the 2014 congressional elections and are seeking ways to keep the issue from fading once HealthCare.gov functions more smoothly.
Scott Gottlieb, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told the Ways and Means subcommittee that he believed that consumers would be surprised when they learn that many of the plans available to consumers under Obamacare will restrict their choices of doctors.
"I fear many consumers who enroll in these plans will find themselves disappointed by the resulting health plans or worse, get caught in difficult financial and medical binds," Gottlieb said.
Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, which advocates for free-market health policies, said new requirements under the health law would translate into higher premium costs for both consumers and businesses.
SOME DEMOCRATIC FEARS CALMED
At a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa said that the problems with the Obamacare website were evidence the government was incapable of carrying out big initiatives, such as overhauling the healthcare sector.
"I believe that in fact we have before us an example of something that may be too big to swallow, even for the U.S. federal government," said Issa, a California Republican.
Democrats accused Republicans of scaremongering as a way of undermining the law, which is aimed at making affordable health care insurance available to millions of people who have no coverage.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the leading Democrat on Issa's committee, said popular initiatives such as the Social Security retirement program and Medicare health program for seniors demonstrated that the government "is fully capable of overcoming initial problems with the implementation of programs that help millions of people in their daily lives."
After intensive outreach to Capitol Hill Democrats in recent weeks, White House officials have managed to calm some of their fears about the political fallout from the Obamacare rollout.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said that although some Democrats in the chamber had expressed support for legislative fixes for Obamacare, it was unlikely any such legislation would make it to the Senate floor by the end of this year.
Instead, the aide said, senators would keep an eye on how the website is performing and whether other problems are arising before deciding early next year whether legislative changes are needed.
(Reporting by Caren Bohan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan; Editing by Fred Barbash and Peter Cooney)