Obama to tout ObamaCare, press young people to enroll

President Obama will promote his signature healthcare law Friday as part of a pivotal campaign to encourage people to enroll in the law's new coverage options.

Obama is scheduled to discuss the law at a stop in San Jose, Calif. — an area where premiums for new insurance policies have come in lower than expected.

Obama plans to discuss the broad outlines of how the healthcare law works and highlight community partnerships aimed at promoting enrollment, senior administration officials said ahead of the speech.

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The next few months pose a make-or-break test for ObamaCare. The administration and state governments are rapidly building new insurance marketplaces called exchanges. The marketplaces are slated to open in October, selling coverage that begins Jan. 1.

Many Democrats are openly worried about the political consequences of a rocky rollout, just months before the 2014 midterms. But the White House has insisted it plans to launch an aggressive outreach campaign as the enrollment window grows closer. 

Obama's speech Friday is part of that effort.

The first phase of the enrollment push is “making sure people know what ObamaCare is," one administration official said. As October gets closer, the emphasis will shift toward more specific education about how to enroll, followed by a straightforward pitch to sign up for coverage.

Polls show the public is deeply misinformed about the healthcare law. Public approval is also at or near historic lows, despite Democrats' repeated assurances that people would warm to the law once more of it took effect.

The White House chose California as the setting for Obama's speech in part because the law is taking shape basically as planned in the state. 

Although some young, healthy Californians will see their premiums rise as a result of the law, early filings showed that overall, premiums would be much lower than expected, and many consumers would save money by using the state's exchange.

California has also been a consistent leader in implementing the law, and is undertaking an aggressive outreach effort on the state level.

Administration officials said they're hoping to enroll roughly 7 million people next year in insurance exchanges across the country. They want young, healthy people to make up about 2.6 million to 2.7 million of that total.

Enrolling healthy customers is important to keep costs under control. Adding healthy people to the risk pool offsets the costs of guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Roughly one-third of the young, healthy customers the administration wants to reach live in California, Texas and Florida, administration officials said, and most are Hispanic.

In California, three of the largest Hispanic-oriented media outlets have partnered with a nonprofit organization to help raise awareness about the state's insurance exchange and encourage people to enroll.

Obama will highlight that partnership and encourage community groups in other states to form their own partnerships, the administration officials said.

Texas and Florida — the two other states officials most hope to reach — have staunchly conservative governors who have refused to set up their own exchanges, pushing the task instead to the federal government. Those states would certainly not be willing to invest in the type of promotion and outreach California has undertaken.

An administration official, though, said state governments are not the only option. Community groups, churches and local officials can all help promote enrollment at the local level.

Friday's speech will be the second recent appearance Obama has dedicated specifically to the healthcare law. (He also held an East Room event near Mother's Day to highlight new benefits for women.)

By devoting so much attention to the issue, Obama will likely help quell Democratic concerns over the implementation — and lend significant visibility to an enrollment push that is already well under way within his administration.

In addition to the high-profile pitch from Obama, the administration has signed multiple contracts with public relations firms to promote the law, and the exchanges specifically. 

Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants will fund on-the-ground assistance for people who want to enroll, and the administration officials said they are looking into an additional avenue for in-person counseling.

The White House has also forged extensive ties to Enroll America, a nonprofit formed specifically to encourage enrollment. The healthcare law provides only limited funding for promotion and outreach, and congressional Republicans have refused to provide more money. 

Instead, the administration has turned to Enroll America. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has made fundraising calls on the group's behalf, as has Nancy-Ann DeParle, formerly a deputy White House chief of staff. The administration also orchestrated a leadership change in which one of its own officials took the reins of Enroll America.

Republicans in Congress have criticized all of those promotional steps, hoping to undermine the enrollment push and the law's chances of practical success. 

But the administration has defended its efforts, noting that senior healthcare officials in the Bush administration worked closely with outside groups — including both nonprofit allies and public relations firms — to promote the Medicare drug benefit in 2006.