Under pressure, Obama sells health care law

The president is calling on campaign tactics in hopes of enrolling uninsured Americans.

STATESMAN WASHINGTON BUREAUMay 12, 2013 

WASHINGTON - Seeking to ensure that his landmark health care law is successfully implemented - after months of negative stories about state exchanges, high costs and burdens on employers - President Barack Obama is reprising his 2012 election strategy.

The new campaign, whose outcome could largely shape the president's legacy, is targeting young people, Latinos and women - groups that were crucial to his victory in November.

It will rely on some of the same tools that the re-election campaign pioneered for voter turnout, including extensive use of social media, mobilization of volunteers and data-driven outreach.

Even some of the same strategists are playing central roles, including Obama's former campaign manager, Boise High School graduate Jim Messina. He heads Organizing for Action, the grass-roots nonprofit group that evolved out of Obama's campaign. It has made enrolling Americans in health coverage a top priority.

The president, who faces rising anxiety from Democrats that a messy rollout could be politically disastrous for the party in the 2014 midterm election, tried to reassure his supporters Friday.

"With something as personal as health care, I realize that there are people who are anxious - people who are nervous making sure that we get this done right," he said at a Mother's Day event. "I'm here to tell you I am 110 percent committed to getting it done right."

Campaign veterans have begun to identify target groups, comb census tract information and develop key messaging, part of a push that one adviser compared to a massive voter registration drive. Also involved are consumer advocates, health care groups and businesses interested in promoting insurance coverage.

"We hope the outreach will all be coordinated," said former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle. "There are a lot of strange bedfellows."

Administration officials are talking to companies such as pharmacy giant CVS Caremark, which could use its retail locations to help connect uninsured consumers with health plans.

Just this week, the Obama administration announced it was providing $150 million to community health centers so they can help uninsured patients sign up.

Such efforts have proved controversial in the past, as Republican critics of the law have accused the administration of publicizing it for political purposes. Obama defends the work as simply informing Americans about the benefits of a law that is on the books.

Insurance companies will be required next year to offer health plans to all consumers, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions. And most Americans will be required to have health coverage.

Unless young and healthy people sign up for coverage, insurance premiums could skyrocket, undermining the law's promise to control costs.

Repeated delays in key regulations and warnings from insurers and business groups about skyrocketing costs have fueled rising anxiety about the law. And Republicans continue to capitalize on the doubt.

"The president's health care law is a train wreck for men and women alike," House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in statement Friday. House Republicans plan yet another vote on repealing the law within a week.

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