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Obama says health care as easy as online shopping

Tribune Washington Bureau

September 26. 2013 9:22PM

LARGO, Md. — President Barack Obama says his Affordable Care Act is about to make health insurance cheaper than the average cellphone bill and as easy to get as "a plane ticket on Kayak."

In a pitch to community college students in suburban Maryland on Thursday morning, Obama compared the soon-to-launch health care "marketplaces" to Internet travel websites that let users compare prices and details with a few keystrokes.

"Don't take my word for it, go on the website," Obama told a crowd at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md. "See for yourself what the prices are. See for yourself what the choices are and then make up your own mind. That's all I'm asking."

If you go on the website and it turns out you're going to save money," Obama said, "even if you didn't vote for me, I'll bet you'll sign up for that health care plan."

Though laced with jabs at Republican opponents of the law known as "Obamacare," the President's message was focused less on politics than on function.

With just five days to go until the marketplaces open online, the White House is intent on a task that many critics of the administration say is long overdue: explaining how it works.

That task is priority No. 1 for the Obama administration this week, with everyone from the commander in chief to the rank-and-file press staff setting out details for reporters and target interest groups.

When the exchanges open Tuesday, people who do not have insurance will have an open-enrollment period that lasts until March in which to review the available plans and decide whether to sign up.

Obama's speech will be followed by a series of events in which White House and agency officials will fan out to participate in conferences, briefings and online conversations with target groups.

The administration has faced considerable criticism from fellow Democrats for not selling Obamacare consistently enough in the 3 { years since Obama signed it into law. White House officials have countered that until the law actually became real to consumers, such efforts would have been futile.

Obama and White House officials have their work cut out for them. Polling shows even uninsured Americans, the primary target for the law's new exchanges, are wary. A Pew Research survey conducted last week found the uninsured as likely to disapprove of the law as they are to approve of it, with about one-third of those without insurance saying they think the law will have a negative effect on them. Only half of the uninsured surveyed knew the law offered subsidies to bring down the out-of-pocket cost of insurance.

The message in Largo was designed to convince young, uninsured Americans — a crucial demographic — the new health care "exchanges" can provide insurance coverage that fits their budgets.

Far from the policy-talk of past health care addresses, Obama on Thursday was offering more of a how-to.

"Starting on Tuesday, every American can visit to find out what's called the insurance marketplace for your state," Obama said. "It's a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health care plans ... the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak."

He urged people to give it a try even if they have had a bad health care shopping experience in the past.

"I promise you, this is a lot easier," he said. "It's like booking a hotel or a plane ticket."

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