Obama Warns of `Misinformation' During Obamacare Enrollment

  • President to sit for five regional radio interviews Thursday
  • `Be more creative,' Obama tells insurance enrollment workers

President Barack Obama told workers helping to enroll Americans in health care plans offered under Obamacare that they must fight efforts to scare off millions of Americans who still have not purchased insurance.

The president’s conference call Wednesday with enrollment counselors and advocates for his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was intended to boost enthusiasm for the program amid indications that sign-ups are flat-lining. The third open-enrollment period for private insurance sold under the law began on Sunday.

About 35 million people in the U.S. remained without insurance in 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office, despite a law intended to cover nearly all legal residents.

"They’ve been fed a lot of misinformation and this has become unfortunately this political issue that it never should have been," Obama said on the call. "That’s in a lot of circumstances scared them off, and we’ve got to make sure we reach them."

Obama said that the government’s data showed that six in 10 people still did not know that tax credits were available to help them purchase health insurance. He also warned that enrollment efforts would suffer from diminishing media coverage in the third year of the program.

"We’re anticipating we’re not going to have the same amount of national media attention we’ve had in the past, so we’re going to have to be more creative," Obama said.

The administration has already downplayed expectations. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell last month said she expects only 10 million Americans to be enrolled by late 2016 -- a modest increase from the 9.1 million projected to have plans purchased through the ACA’s insurance exchanges by the end of 2015. The Congressional Budget Office said in June that it expected about 20 million people to be enrolled in exchange plans in 2016.

Administration officials have acknowledged difficulty reaching uninsured people who haven’t yet signed up. Burwell said on Twitter on Tuesday that 250,000 applications for insurance had been submitted in the first two days of open enrollment, a number that does not represent the number of consumers who had selected and purchased a plan.

Kentucky Complication

State politics also complicate the White House’s efforts to expand Obamacare. On Tuesday, Kentucky elected Matt Bevin, a Republican who promised to close his state’s ACA insurance exchange, Kynect, and reshape its expansion of Medicaid.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that residents of Kentucky would still be able to purchase insurance on the federal system, and that he was encouraged by Bevin’s pledge not to strip Medicaid coverage from people already enrolled in the program.

"Vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act in some cases has been used as an effective political strategy that’s not a terribly effective governing strategy," Earnest said.

The president said he hoped to convince people already covered under the Affordable Care Act to re-enroll, while targeting outreach efforts at those still without insurance.

The marketing campaign will include an "unprecedented regional and local marketing effort" as well as Twitter chats with Cabinet officials and celebrity involvement in local Obamacare events, said Katie Hill, a White House spokeswoman.

Obama will sit for five interviews with local radio stations on Thursday, including one in Dallas, a city his administration views as among the most promising targets for outreach on the Affordable Care Act. Communities in northern New Jersey and Florida as well as Atlanta also will receive particular attention.

"We’ll build on the many lessons we’ve learned over the past two years -- for example, which messages consumers respond to, which parts of the country they live in, and which weeks they tend to enroll during -– to drive the activities of senior White House officials, including the president himself," Hill said in an e-mail.

The administration is particularly focused on minorities. Already, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett hosted a call with Al Sharpton and other black faith leaders, while domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz held a Twitter chat on health insurance and the Latino community.

Administration officials have not said how much the marketing will cost.

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