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There's a little less than four weeks to go until the biggest part of the federal health law opens for business. And the Obama administration is launching its biggest public relations blitz for the law. The effort officially kicked off this morning with an hour-long speech by former President Bill Clinton. In the coming days, President Obama and top administration officials will continue the push.
As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, the public remains divided and confused about how the law will work.
JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has been polling the public every month since the health bill became a law in 2010. Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman says the sides have barely budged since then; Republicans remain opposed to the law and Democrats largely in support.
But there's another finding that's cropped up more recently. A big swath of the public is no longer sure the health law is, well, a law.
DREW ALTMAN: We've still got more than 40 percent of the American people who think that the law may have been repealed by the Congress, or overturned by the Supreme Court, or just don't know. It's 44 percent who think that because they've been picking up a newspaper or turning on the TV or turning on the radio, and hearing about yet another repeal vote in the House of Representatives.
ROVNER: There have been 40 of those so far, which helps explain why so many think at least one might have resulted in the law actually getting repealed. And Altman says there are other reasons he's not surprised that people are still confused even at this late date.
ALTMAN: How many people, you know, know how their own health insurance works? And how many people have waited to study for the exam just until they have to?
ROVNER: Which brings us to Professor Clinton, Bill Clinton, former president now known to many as explainer-in-chief. Speaking from his presidential library in Little Rock this morning, Clinton led what amounted to a graduate seminar on the Affordable Care Act - webcast live for those who cared to watch - on how the law is supposed to work and why it's needed. Some of it was pretty dry.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Studies show that we are number one by a country mile in the percentage of our income we devote to health care costs, and ranked no better than 25th to 33rd in the health care outcomes we get.
ROVNER: And some of it was aimed at making the political case for the measure.
CLINTON: Now this law has already done a lot of good. It's about to make 95 percent of us insured, with access to affordable care. it has built in incentives to lower costs and improve quality.
ROVNER: But the overreaching theme of Clinton's speech seemed to be an effort to get Republicans to back off their opposition to the law, and work with Democrats to fix the parts that aren't working as anticipated.
CLINTON: We're going to do better working together and learning together than we will trying - over and over again - to repeal the law or rooting for reform to fail, and refusing to fix relatively simple matters.
ROVNER: And he took a swipe or two or three at Republicans both in Congress and the states who are simply refusing to implement the law as written.
CLINTON: We've all got an interest in trying to faithfully execute the laws. If you get one of these elected jobs, you actually take an oath to do that.
ROVNER: Republicans, however, aren't backing down as the clock ticks towards the October 1st launch date. Dan Holler is communications director for Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation.
DAN HOLLER: There's a sense of urgency from the Obama administration right now, and that's what you see with Clinton and others coming out. Republicans in Congress need to have that same sense of urgency, to say: This is one of our last best shots to stop this law before it goes into effect.
ROVNER: Opponents, however, have a new problem to deal with: The Syria debate that will consume much of the limited time Congress is expected to be in session during September. Meanwhile, look for efforts by those on both sides of the health law debate to ramp up in the coming weeks.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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