- The Washington Times - Friday, November 6, 2015

Hoping to boost Obamacare signups in a tough third year, the White House on Friday challenged 20 cities across the U.S. to root out their uninsured residents and drive them into Web-based exchanges set up under the law.

The participating cities span the nation — from Atlanta to Phoenix — and tend to have Democratic mayors, even if some of their states lean to the right and have spurned the Affordable Care Act.

Dubbed the “Healthy Communities Challenge,” the contest targets cities with a high number or high percentage of uncovered residents.

HealthCare.gov and the state-run exchanges will tally signups in each community and post the results after open enrollment closes on Jan. 31, allowing people to see which cities made the most progress.

“The victorious community gets bragging rights, a healthier community, and a visit from President Obama to celebrate their success in helping ensure every American has health coverage,” the White House said.

The tournament comes on the heels of a media blitz by Mr. Obama to tout his signature law.

Before a round of radio interviews, he told enrollment teams it will be harder than ever to find people who haven’t logged onto the exchanges, where people can buy plans and qualify for taxpayer subsidies that knock down their monthly premiums.

“We’re not going to have the same amount of national media attention we had in the past, so we’ve got to be a little more creative and we’ve got to talk about the most important thing that those that are still eligible for insurance, and that is affordability,” Mr. Obama said.

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 key point, according to the administration, is that the law has demonstrably cut the ranks of uninsured by driving people into the exchanges, expanding Medicaid in more than half the states and letting young adults stay on their parents’ plans.

The Centers for Disease Control says 28.5 million people (9 percent) were uninsured during the first half of this year, or 7.5 million fewer persons than in 2014 and 16.3 million fewer than in 2013. Obamacare’s main coverage provisions took effect in January 2014.

“The nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever,” the White House said.”But still, in communities across the country, 10.5 million people eligible for Marketplace coverage remain uninsured.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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