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The Obamacare health insurance marketplaces are finally about to open. They are a key part of the federal health law, which means the heat is on for the Obama administration to get people to sign up for coverage come October. Opponents of the law are working to get out a different message, in a last-ditch effort to run Obamacare off the rails.
NPR's Julie Rovner reports.
JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Probably the most aggressive effort is coming from Freedomworks, a conservative advocacy group. It's urging people - particularly young people - not to sign up for health insurance. Dean Clancy is the group's vice president for policy.
DEAN CLANCY: They can skip the exchange, pay the fine, and in doing that, do what's best for them financially, and we hope help hasten the collapse of Obamacare.
ROVNER: And they've created a bit of civil disobedience theater as part of their campaign, inviting people to symbolically burn fictional Obamacare insurance cards.
CLANCY: We're going to be holding burnings around the country. And, you know, without burning anything down. It's all peaceful and lawful.
ROVNER: Of course, there is no such thing as an Obamacare card. But that's not a problem. Freedomworks is making its own, and distributing them. Clancy says the idea is to harken back to the days of the Vietnam War, when protesters burned their actual draft cards, which was a violation of federal law.
CLANCY: The individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare is a lot like a military draft.
ROVNER: And, says Clancy, if enough young people resist the health law the way they resisted the war...
CLANCY: Then Washington will get the signal. We'll be able to reopen this law, and we'll be able to push for patient-centered reforms that really help people get the coverage they need.
Freedomworks isn't the only conservative group aiming squarely at the young demographic considered so key to making the health law work, though. Young people are necessary to ensure the exchanges aren't overloaded with older, sicker patients.
ROVNER: Another GOP advocacy group called the YGNetwork - YG stands for young guns - is out with a TV ad that's been airing on youth-oriented programs like "Saturday Night Live." It pokes fun at the Obama administration's efforts to promote the law by showing a frustrated group of advertising executives around a table.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're supposed to sell this junk?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Can we change the name?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Like?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Obamarama.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Healthfun.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Funcare. I like funcare.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No. Next!
ROVNER: Chris Bond is the group's spokesman.
CHRIS BOND: What we're doing is drawing attention to the fact that they're using taxpayer money in this sort of cynical marketing effort, rather than fixing the law so that it doesn't hurt Americans.
ROVNER: But not all the effort to stop the law in its tracks is being aimed at the young. Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, is launching a nine-city Defund Obamacare town hall tour starting later this month.
Dan Holler, the group's spokesman, explained why time is of the essence.
DAN HOLLER: On October 1st, open enrollment starts for the Obamacare exchanges. And then on January 1st, there's a ton of money that starts flying out the door. And up until now, most of the conversation about Obamacare has been this is going to happen at some point in the future. The future is now on this.
ROVNER: Unlike many of the other groups, however, Heritage isn't urging people not to enroll in the exchanges. It's concentrating on getting grassroots support to get Congress to pull the plug on the law's funding.
HOLLER: Right now, there's a viable legislative strategy to go ahead and halt the implementation of Obamacare. And we want to drive that as far and as hard as we possibly can, and the town halls are an effort to do just that.
ROVNER: And what does the Obama administration think of all these efforts to interfere with their rollout? Not a lot, at least according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She spoke with reporters on a conference call Monday.
SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: I don't think we're going to spend a lot of time and effort trying to estimate who they may discourage from getting health insurance to provide security for themselves and their family. I think it's a pretty dismal effort underway.
ROVNER: The administration does have backup, though. Groups like Protect Your Care will be out countering the Republican efforts, says spokesman Eddie Vale.
EDDIE VALE: When Republican members are having town halls, we will have local people come to them to ask why they keep trying to take away their health care. Whether it's the Heritage Foundation or Americans for Prosperity doing their events, we will, of course, send people out to those.
ROVNER: And Vale wonders about the irony, in particular, of the Freedomworks card-burning effort.
VALE: They're asking people literally to play with fire and burn Obamacare documents, while at the same time telling these very same people that they shouldn't have health care.
ROVNER: For the record, Freedomworks cautions people not to burn themselves while they're burning their cards.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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