- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Barack Obama stepped back into the limelight Wednesday to promote his signature health care law on the first day of 2018 sign-ups, joining former aides and grass-roots activists who’ve launched a shadow campaign to fill the void left by President Trump’s open hostility to the law.

In a web video, Mr. Obama said it “only takes a few minutes” to shop for coverage on HealthCare.gov and said plans may cost less than a cellphone plan due to taxpayer-funded subsidies that blunt the cost of soaring premiums.

He also encouraged current customers to shop around for better deals on the exchanges.

“Spread the word to make sure everybody knows that it’s time to get covered on HealthCare.gov, because this country works best when we look out for one another,” he said in the clip released by Get America Covered, a coalition founded by ex-Obama staffers to promote the law.

The first Obamacare enrollment period under Mr. Trump began Wednesday with the health law’s backers fearing disaster. They say the president has cut outreach funding and slashed the enrollment period to just half of what Mr. Obama allowed.

Mr. Obama would also deploy top administration officials to spread the word each year.

That high-level push is absent now, with Mr. Trump at the helm, determined to repeal the health law altogether and his agencies highlighting Obamacare’s struggles.

The president himself spent the first hours of open enrollment on Twitter, musing it would “be great” to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate to hold insurance and use the savings — fewer people would seek coverage and soak up subsidies — to usher in deeper tax cuts.

That’s left it to groups like Get America Covered and Protect Our Care, a coalition that fought repeal this year, to promote the law on social media alongside celebrities and Democratic allies.

Mr. Obama’s 79-second message was strikingly similar to the opening-day pitches he made during the last four rounds of enrollment when he occupied the White House. And it signaled a willingness to step out and defend his law in the face of Mr. Trump’s attempts to dismantle it.

Democratic-run states are also stepping in to urge sign-ups.

Covered California, a state-run exchange, increased its outreach budget by $5 million, to $111 million overall. It planned to run ads during Game 7 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.

Washington’s state legislature, anticipating changes at the federal level, approved an extra $1.5 million for advertising over the next two enrollment periods.

Many state-run exchanges also extended their open enrollment periods beyond the federal deadline of Dec. 15.

For instance, residents of California, New York and the District will have until Jan. 31 — the same as last year. Connecticut set a deadline of Dec. 22; Rhode Island customers can shop until Dec. 31.

Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota set mid-January deadlines.

Maryland’s exchange is using the same Dec. 15 deadline as HealthCare.gov, though spokesman Andrew Ratner said it has the same marketing budget as last year, so outreach is “more concentrated since it’s across 45 days instead of 90.”

Mr. Trump says Democrats will “own” the blame for increased costs Obamacare customers will see this year.

But Democrats say there is ample evidence that Republicans will pay a political price for their handling of the law.

Half of Americans would blame Mr. Trump and Republicans if they see higher costs under Obamacare, while only 37 percent would ding Mr. Obama and Democrats, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Opinions were split along predictable lines among Republicans and Democrats, though independents would blame the GOP by a 49 percent-to-29 percent margin.

Many state regulators were able to load insurers’ price hikes onto their second-lowest-cost silver plans, which determine the amount of subsidy someone gets relative to income. As a result, subsidized customers might see better deals than in previous years, such as upmarket gold plans that cost less than midtier ones.

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