President Barack Obama’s political and policy priorities are dovetailing this week as he helps raise cash for Democratic congressional candidates and tries to rouse interest from uninsured Americans in signing up for coverage under his health-care law.
The outcome of both missions may determine how much he can accomplish on the rest of his second-term agenda.
Obama travels today to Dallas, and to Miami on Nov. 8, to headline fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Both are in states that have some of the highest proportions of people lacking insurance.
Dallas is the U.S. city with the most uninsured residents eligible to participate in the federal marketplace -- 670,000 in 2011 -- according to data from the Census Bureau and the White House. The broader Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area has an estimated 424,000 uninsured young adults, ages 19-24. There are also 456,000 Hispanics lacking coverage.
Obama plans to visit Temple Emanu-El to thank volunteers with the Dallas-area interfaith group working to enroll uninsured Texans through the marketplaces set up under the law.
“It’s a key place for us to reach young consumers and therefore one of the top priority areas,” Obama adviser David Simas said.
Texas and Florida also are the two states with the largest Hispanic populations after California. Hispanics, a growing political force, disproportionately lack health-care coverage.
The flawed rollout of the government website intended to be the main gateway to get insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and stories about canceled individual policies after Obama’s repeated promises that people who liked their insurance could keep it have driven down the president’s public approval ratings.
Obama, seeking a rebound, plans to use his appearances to promote the economic and social benefits of getting the uninsured enrolled and to urge Republican governors to stop blocking state expansions of Medicaid.
About one in four Texans and Floridians were uninsured in 2012 compared with 16.9 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area had an uninsured rate of 24.3 percent, while 29.1 percent were uninsured in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area.
The interfaith alliance represents 41 churches, synagogues, schools and community groups with more than 90,000 members, said Gwen Lummus, 65, chairwoman of the group’s health-care committee and a member of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.
In August, the alliance produced a booklet in English and Spanish to address questions about the law and enrollment. Two hundred members from 32 of the congregations were trained to go back to churches to teach about how the marketplace would work.
Lummus said the health-care law has been portrayed by critics as “all these things that it isn’t.”
“It’s a way to provide people who either have been denied access because of pre-existing conditions or who couldn’t afford health care,” she said. “It’s not a perfect law. We want to work to make it better.” Lummus said while she and her husband now are old enough to be covered by Medicare, they could have cut their insurance costs by two-thirds under the law, which protects patients with pre-existing conditions.
Obama’s visit comes as his administration is struggling to overcome flaws with the health website that have frustrated consumers and may hobble enrollment figures for young and Latino uninsured.
“I’m very disappointed it didn’t have a better rollout,” Lummus said, while “we have faith that it will get fixed.”
For the second time in a week, Obama will be on the road promoting the law the same day that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was testifying before a congressional committee about the healthcare.gov website.
Since opening Oct. 1, the website serving 36 states has been plagued by delays, error messages and hang-ups that prevented customers from completing applications.
Sebelius told the Senate Finance Committee today that there are “a couple of hundred functional fixes” that need to be made on the website. She said enrollment numbers will be released next week.
On a conference call organized by the White House, Texas supporters played down the long-term damage from the problems with the rollout.
Obama’s visit will be a “shot in the arm” for organizers and consumers, said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro acknowledged concerns about depressing Latino participation while saying the president’s engagement will help.
“It’s important right now to play an active role and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Castro said.
Obama also is scheduled to appear at two fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the Dallas area. Ticket prices are about $32,000 per couple to attend a dinner event at the home of lawyer Russell Budd, and $15,000 per person to attend a reception at the home of lawyer Peter Kraus, according to a party official who wasn’t authorized discuss the events.