- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

President Obama kicked off a media campaign in support of his signature health law Wednesday by cheering on “navigator” groups tasked with rooting out the millions of Americans who failed to sign up during the first two rounds.

Mr. Obama told the enrollment assisters that it will be harder than ever to find people who haven’t already logged onto the federal HealthCare.gov website or state-run insurance exchanges, where people can buy plans and qualify for taxpayer subsidies that make coverage more affordable.

“We’ve got to be a little more creative,” he said in a conference call.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama will conduct radio interviews with outlets in five markets the administration is targeting for higher enrollment, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

The Health and Human Services Department also is leveraging radio airtime, partnering with local enrollment coalitions and placing ads in newspapers, gas stations, laundromats and convince stores in Dallas, Houston, northern New Jersey, Chicago and Miami.

Mr. Obama’s media blitz comes a few days into the law’s third round of signups, which lasts until Jan. 31.

“We want to reach as many people as we possibly can,” Mr. Earnest said. “And these markets have been identified as communities where there are a substantial number of people who have not yet availed themselves of the opportunity to get health insurance through their marketplace. And so that’s the message the president will deliver tomorrow.”

The government estimates that just 10 million Americans will sign up for plans on the health care exchanges for next year, a small increase over the 9 million-plus enrollees it attracted for 2015 and far short of the 21 million that budget analysts initially projected.

HHS says roughly 10.5 million people remain eligible for exchange coverage, so it is virtually impossible to reach the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate, which had assumed firms would dump workers off company plans and into the exchanges.

The administration still wants to gobble up as many eligible customers as they can, however, noting eight in 10 enrollees qualify for tax credits and that seven in 10 customers could get covered for under $75 per month, once those subsidies are applied.

“That’s where you come in,” Mr. Obama told the assisters. “You’ve got to get that information out.”

The law continues to face headwinds on Capitol Hill, however, where Republicans say the Affordable Care Act isn’t living up to its name.

A pre-enrollment analysis said premiums on important mid-tier, or “benchmark” plans, will rise by an average of 7.5 percent, although individuals could see sharper rate hikes — or even decreases in their premiums —  depending on where they live.

Congressional critics also want to know why more than half of Obamacare’s co-op plans, which were supposed to give consumers a leg up in a marketplace, have been forced out of the exchanges and risk default on taxpayer loans.

Twelve of the initial 23 co-op plans have been forced out of the marketplace, with Michigan becoming the latest to announce it will not offer plans for next year.

Together, the failed co-ops received about $1.2 billion in startup loans and served more than 750,000 people, who must now scramble to find new plans on the exchanges.

And a fight over Obamacare is brewing in Kentucky, where Republican businessman Matt Bevin was elected governor late Tuesday on a platform that included rolling back the 2010 law’s footprint in the Bluegrass State.

Mr. Bevin has called for disbanding its state-run insurance exchange, Kynect, and transferring residents to the federal HealthCare.gov portal. More significantly, he hinted at changes to the Medicaid expansion program that’s covered 400,000-plus residents in the state.

Mr. Earnest said if Mr. Bevin wants to condition the expanded coverage on certain reforms, as other GOP leaders states have done, it’s likely the administration “would engage in that kind of discussion with him.”

On the exchange side, Mr. Earnest said Kynect has “performed quite well, and it’s served the people of Kentucky quite well.”

“There are dozens of states across the country that have either by request or by their own refusal to go through the work of setting up this system, have the federal government come in to operate these marketplaces,” he said. “And so if necessary, I’m confident that’s something we can do in Kentucky as well. … We wait for a formal request from the governor’s office and, you know, he’s not even in office yet.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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