TAMPA — Opponents and proponents of the federal health care law squared off in Tampa on Wednesday, portraying the impending insurance changes as either a massive disaster or the necessary savior of America's health.
Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina organized an evening town hall meeting, which called for defunding the federal health care law. More than 300 people attended the event.
Earlier in the day, supporters of the law held a news conference, saying that health care reform will help most Americans.
Educating Americans about the law will be paramount for the federal government and insurers, as 78 percent of uninsured adults don't know about opportunities that will be available to them in 2014, according to Enroll America, a nonprofit group sponsoring a national marketing campaign.
Opponents of the law warn that health care premiums will increase and businesses will cut jobs because they can't afford to offer health coverage to employees. Proponents say that won't happen and that Republicans are using scare tactics to derail President Obama.
"They just want it to go back to the way it was," said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United For Change, a liberal group that says the new law should not be defunded.
Tampa is one of many stops on a nine-state tour organized by Heritage Action, a conservative group that's focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
DeMint said opponents don't have much time to try to make changes to the law before a March 2014 deadline for people to enroll. Benefits will kick in Jan. 1 for those who enroll earlier.
"This might be that last off-ramp to stop Obamacare before it becomes more enmeshed in our culture," he said. "This is not about getting better health care."
DeMint said uninsured Americans "will get better health care just going to the emergency room."
The biggest applause of the night went to Rafael Cruz the father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The elder Cruz, a Cuban immigrant, gave the invocation and spoke out against the health care act.
Some conservatives have threatened to close the government temporarily this fall — by refusing to fund federal operations beyond Sept. 30 — if that's the only way to cut off money for President Obama's signature health care law. Other Republicans have dismissed the tactic as counterproductive and even dangerous for Republicans seeking re-election next year.
Hours before the town hall meeting Wednesday, supporters of the law held a news conference, saying that health care reform will help most Americans.
Several dozen supporters also rallied outside of the town hall meeting. Supporters are trying counter with news conferences and demonstrations in each of the cities where Heritage is holding a town hall.
Hundreds of thousands of Florida residents making less than $48,000 a year will be eligible for federal money to help purchase their own insurance through online health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. The new marketplaces, which open for enrollment this October, will have the feel of an online travel site where individuals and families can compare different private insurance plans.