By Elise Viebeck and Justin Sink - 09/24/13 12:00 AM EDT
President Obama is hitting the campaign trail for ObamaCare as part of a six-month effort to convince people to sign up for the law’s insurance exchanges before they open on Oct. 1.
The effort comes as conservative groups and Republicans are seeking to defund the law and convince people to not sign up for the exchanges, making it a key test for the president.
On Thursday, the president will head to suburban Maryland for another event. Later in the week, Vice President Biden will hold a call with nurses around the country. Obama also is expected to host a conference call with mayors and other state and local officials urging them to help with implementation.
The stakes are high for the Obama administration, as the White House is eager to convince millions of uninsured Americans to sign up for health coverage.
Disapproval of the law hit an all-time record in a recent national survey, and obstruction from states and criticism from unions have increased the challenge for federal health officials.
If people fail to sign up for the insurance exchanges — particularly the young and healthy people needed to balance out premium costs — the law is unlikely to succeed.
The political right remains unified and active in its opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and is working to convince people to not sign up for the exchanges.
Obama’s supporters say they hope he can cut through the noise and reach people who still don’t understand the reform law.
“Anytime the president talks about anything, it’s newsworthy,” said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now.
“He is one of the law’s most articulate, forceful and enthusiastic spokespeople ... and he’ll be saying that for the first time ever, there is affordable care available to the uninsured.”
ObamaCare is never far from the headlines, but the law’s rollout has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the Syrian conflict and GOP attempts to cut the law’s funding.
Obama himself has not devoted much public time to the law apart from a White House address in July.
That changes with the events this week, which are part of an administration-wide effort.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been criss-crossing the nation to encourage local officials and nonprofit organizations to help connect the uninsured with the new exchanges. The White House said those public awareness efforts would continue with the aid of six other Cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.
The White House’s communications team on Monday also flooded their social media accounts with messages mocking GOP attempts to tie government funding to healthcare reform’s demise. Top officials tweeted using the hashtag #EnoughAlready to argue that Republicans should drop their attempts to defund or delay the president’s signature program.
According to a White House official, the administration going forward will lean on a “diverse group of stakeholders,” including radio DJs, librarians, faith leaders, pharmacies, celebrities, women’s magazines and insurance companies, to market the healthcare exchanges directly to young Americans.
The White House has a long way to go, according to surveys.
Fifty-three percent of people disapprove of ObamaCare and Obama’s approach to healthcare policy, according to a survey released last week by USA Today.
The poll also found that Republicans have gained a narrow but telling edge on healthcare issues, erasing a preference for Democrats that had lasted more than 20 years.
Conservative activists are anxious to claim credit for the defund-ObamaCare movement, which sprang to life this summer.
“It’s hard to deny the impact that constituents had over the month of August,” said Dan Holler, communications director with Heritage Action.
“The grassroots are really rising up ... and exerting downward pressure on ObamaCare’s polling numbers.”
Like others on the right, Holler argued that Obama is promoting the Affordable Care Act to combat GOP criticisms.
“Anytime you see the numbers drop, the president and his allies try to rally together and figure out how to stop the bleeding,” Holler said. “Good luck to them.”
The defunding movement, which does not have strong support in opinion polls, gained momentum last week when House GOP leaders endorsed a conservative plan to pass a government-funding bill without money for ObamaCare.
The Senate will reject the plan, forcing the House GOP to either usher in a government shutdown by refusing to fund the law or make a deal despite opposition from their base.
Democrats say that Republicans are willing to go to such extremes because if the American people see the healthcare law working, it could deal a blow to the conservative movement’s credibility.
“Republicans don’t want the government to be able to help make health care both available and more affordable, it violates their ideology, so nothing’s going to happen in this next year on the issues still to be resolved in terms of implementation that would change that,” Bill Clinton told PBS News on Monday. “The only thing that will change public opinion is when it works.”
The attempts to defund the law on Capitol Hill come alongside other efforts to discourage enrollment in the new exchanges.
Conservative groups have sought to turn young people away from the benefits they might receive.
Last week, the Virginia-based group Generation Opportunity released Web ads depicting a sinister Uncle Sam about to conduct pelvic and prostate exams as part of the healthcare law.
Rome, who called the videos “shockingly disgusting,” said the GOP’s effort to claim responsibility for Obama’s campaign is “ludicrous on its face.”
“If they want to take responsibility for this, they should take responsibility for the fact that we passed the law,” he said.
“For 100 years, people on the right had been opposed to providing quality, affordable healthcare for every American.”