White House Revs Up Delayed Push For Health Coverage

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With HealthCare.gov able to handle an increasing number of users, the Obama administration finally went on the offensive to urge Americans to sign up for new health insurance. The administration had planned a massive advertising and social media campaign to support the Affordable Care Act back in October, but the push was delayed for two months after the health insurance exchange website failed in its debut. The effort comes as the deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting next year looms.


Today is another milestone in the troubled life of the Affordable Care Act. The White House and its allies are beginning a new push to get people to sign up for health insurance on HealthCare.gov. Now that the website is largely working, NPR's Mara Liasson reports the Obama administration is trying to make up for lost time.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The White House said on the first full day of the re-launch of the HealthCare.gov website, a million people went online and the site did not crash. This was what the administration had been waiting for, a stable website so the president could finally begin the campaign he'd planned all along.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: After just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on January 1st, some for the very first time. We know that, half a million people.


LIASSON: Now that the website is functioning, the health care law itself will be put to the test. At the same time, the political battle over Obamacare continues. Republicans are highlighting Obamacare horror stories and attacking vulnerable Democratic senators who repeated the president's promise that if you liked your insurance plan, you could keep it, a promise the president himself says turned out to be inaccurate. House Speaker John Boehner does agree with President Obama on one thing - the Affordable Care Act is more than just HealthCare.gov.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: And it's not just a broken website, this bill was fundamentally flawed, causing people to lose the doctor of their choice, causing them to lose their health plan. And if that isn't enough, they're having to pay much higher prices at the same time. So House Republicans are going to continue to listen to our constituents, listen to the American people and try to focus on protecting them from a fundamentally flawed law.

LIASSON: Part of the White House plan is to push back against these attacks by criticizing Republicans for not having any alternative to the law.

OBAMA: If despite all the millions of people who are benefitting from it you still think this law is a bad idea, then you've got to tell us specifically what you'd do differently to cut costs, cover more people, make insurance more secure. You can't just say that the system was working with 41 million people without health insurance.

LIASSON: Although polls show Americans oppose repealing the law, Obamacare itself remains unpopular, and the White House wants to reassure nervous Democrats in Congress that there is a plan to improve the public's perception of the Affordable Care Act. New York Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler is cautiously optimistic.

REPRESENTATIVE JERROLD NADLER: If a very large number of people succeed in signing up properly and they get decent health care and most people find out that the health care insurance they're getting if they were dropped from their old plan is as good or better, which it would be, and cheaper, I think that most of this publicity will not be remembered.

LIASSON: Those are a lot of ifs. And the White House is sparing no expense to make Nadler's hopes come true. The White House, the Democratic Party committees, insurers and advocacy groups are beginning an elaborate, advertising and social media campaign to try to push millions of people to sign up. A new Gallup poll shows young people are the least informed about the law and getting enough young, healthy people signed up is crucial to making the Obamacare insurance risk pool work.

To that end, the administration sponsored the Healthy Young America video contest to mobilize young people to inform each other about the Affordable Care Act. Erin McDonald was the grand prize winner with this song.


ERIN MCDONALD: (Singing) Seems like everything's about to change in the health care industry when your coverage expands and they can't reject you for conditions that are pre-existing...

LIASSON: The White House and its allies say that every day, from now until Christmas, they'll be holding events to highlight benefits of the law.


MCDONALD: (Singing) Don't need a lot of money, money, money to stay young and healthy, healthy, healthy. We just wanna make it more fair with affordable health care.

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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