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Two years later, health care still politically explosive

Following months of contentious debate in the House and Senate and weeks of political haggling, Congress passed a historic health care reform law on March 21, 2010. The bill, which marks the first such overhaul in the history of American health care, expands medical access and insurance coverage to millions of Americans. Notably, the final bill did not earn a single Republican vote. And while the law remains the topic of heated debate even months after its passage, it marks a major legislative victory for Mr. Obama. "The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see," he said before signing the bill into law in March. "Today we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself, that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations." JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) Two years after the President Obama's landmark health care law was signed into law, the legislation continues to be a lightning rod in American politics. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments about the constitutionality of the law next week and and both political parties see a decision later this year as a key factor that could help determine whether Mr. Obama gets a second term.

In an interview with American Public Media's Marketplace, Mr. Obama knocked his potential Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, over the issue. The president said the former Massachusetts governor is "pretending" to disagree with the law.

Mr. Obama said the Democrats crafted the bill, which includes an individual health insurance mandate, because it "previously had support of Republicans -- including the person who may end up being the Republican standard bearer and is now pretending like he came up with something different."

Romney, who says on the campaign trail that he would repeal the law "on day one," used the health care anniversary to defend himself and his Massachusetts law, which also includes a mandate. In an op-ed in USA Today, Romney said he opposes "a one-size-fits-all health care plan for the entire nation" and says each state should determine its own health care plan. As for the federal government's role, he said states it should allow people to purchase insurance across state lines and institute tort reform, including by capping the amount for some damages.

Although the president addressed health care in an interview, the Democrats' spokesperson-in-chief is not holding a public event to commemorate the anniversary, causing some to question if the president is purposely trying to avoid the politically divisive issue. Instead, Vice President Joe Biden holds an event in Florida discussing the law's impact on seniors.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called dismissed any suggestion that the president is shying away from the legislation he championed.

"I found absurd some of the suggestions that the president or the White House, the administration was running away from or not interested in talking about the Affordable Care Act," Carney told reporters Thursday.

In a news conference, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi dismissed criticism of the president, who did not hold an event on the law's first anniversary either.

"I think the president has been absolutely great on health care without the president we would not have this bill."

To commemorate the anniversary, Republican opponents in Congress voted to repeal part of it, even though it has no chance of passing the Senate. Thursday's vote, mostly along party lines in the House of Representatives, would undue the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), is a 15-member presidentially appointed committee tasked with bringing down the cost of health care. Republicans famously began referring to the panel as "death panels," charging that it would ration health care. 

Meanwhile, this year's health care anniversary comes just three days before the Supreme Court considers the law. Monday, the Court is set to hear six hours of oral arguments over three days on whether to strike down part or all of the law, including the individual mandate. 

During the drafting of the health care bill in 2009 and 2010, vocal public outrage threatened the chance of passage. Angry crowds filled town hall meetings with members of Congress and Republican lawmakers lead rallies changing "kill the bill." Although overt opposition is less vocal today, Americans are still politically divided.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill this week, a member of the Tea party Patriots, a group influential in giving rise to the law's opposition, said "it's time to repeal the bill. 'Obamacare's' a cancer and it's time to rip it out," she said as she ripped up a portion of the bill.

In a new March tracking poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, 41 percent of American view the health care law favorable while 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion, and Kaiser found that people's opinions are in-line with political beliefs. Seventy-five percent of Republicans don't like the law while 66 percent of Democrats like it. 

In the Marketplace interview, the president acknowledged that the law is divisive, but said people will warm up to the issue.

"Over time, as it gets implemented, I think people will say this was the right thing to do."

Americans are just as divided on what the Supreme Court should do.

The same Kaiser poll found that although most people think most of the law should stay in tack, 51 percent think the Court should strike down the mandate - one of the more controversial components of the bill. A separate Washington Post-ABC poll says 41 percent of those polled think the entire law should be struck down. 

Playing a role in influencing public opinion are health care political advertisements. The law has been the subject of $262 million worth of advertising since the bill passed two years ago, according to a new report by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG). The group found that advertisements critical of the health care law have outnumbered supportive ads by a ratio of 3:1. 

Instead of the president, the administration has dispatched its cabinet officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, to parts of the country to promote the law, and released a video of a Colorado family who benefited from the law. Democrats held news conferences on Capitol Hill highlighting parts that have already gone into effect, including the prohibition of preexisting conditions and children able to stay on parents' insurance until the age of 26.

But even the law's supporters admit imperfections.

Seventy-five year-old Bob Meeks with the Alliance for Retired Americans said, "Don't remove it, improve it."

Additional reporting by Jill Jackson and Sarah B. Boxer

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