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Obama uses 2012 campaign tactics to sell health care law

Tribune Washington Bureau

May 11. 2013 10:21PM

WASHINGTON - Seeking to ensure his landmark health care law is successfully implemented, President Barack Obama is reprising his 2012 election strategy in hopes of enrolling millions of uninsured Americans in health plans this fall.

The new campaign, whose outcome could largely shape the President's legacy, is targeting young people, Latinos and women - groups that were crucial to Obama's 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.

Major roles in push

Even some of the same strategists are playing central roles, including Obama's former campaign manager Jim Messina. Messina heads Organizing for Action, the grass-roots nonprofit group that evolved out of Obama's campaign. The group has made enrolling uninsured 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 again 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 in the White House East Room. "I'm here to tell you I am 110 percent committed to getting it done right."

Target groups identified

Campaign veterans have begun to identify target groups, comb census tract information and develop key messaging, part of a push that one adviser involved in the effort 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, a leading architect of the health care law who is now helping Enroll America, one of the groups involved in the effort. "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 insurance plans.

Helping Latinos

In California, the nonprofit California Foundation has devoted more than $200 million to a Spanish-language media campaign with television giant Univision designed to educate Latinos about the health law. The Obama campaign was very successful using health care advertising to reach Latino voters in 2012.

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

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

Insurance requirements

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 this week.

Although Obama has been largely unable to sway a wary public about the law, the enrollment campaign will take a more targeted approach.

High expectations

In the first year, the administration hopes to enroll 7 million people who are uninsured or who buy health insurance in the market for individual policies. To keep premiums affordable, 2.7 million of those people need to be between the ages of 18 and 34, officials said.

They plan to focus particularly on young, healthy people, more than half of whom are minorities and women. About one-third live in California, Texas or Florida. In California, 48 percent of the targeted group is Latino and 15 percent speak Spanish.

The approach looks much like the 2012 election campaign - although it will include urban areas that were ignored by presidential candidates. The organization will identify potentially eligible people by census tracts in key counties, including Los Angeles.

Officials plan to work with community groups, churches, health clinics and advocacy groups to identify and reach their targets. They've identified mothers as important "validators" who can influence a young person's decision to buy insurance, hence the Mother's Day event.

Starting in the fall, Organizing for Action volunteers plan to go door to door enrolling eligible consumers.

The enrollment process - a six-month period beginning in October - even resembles a voter registration period, in which volunteers may return to addresses repeatedly to persuade people to enroll.

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