- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2013

The Obama administration launched its promotion of the new health care law in earnest Monday, revealing that it has asked the National Football League to advertise insurance options as it rolls out a glossy new website and a 24-hour call center to clear up confusion about the law.

President Obama and his political allies are furiously touting the Affordable Care Act less than 100 days until Oct. 1, when state-by-state health “exchanges” will start to enroll Americans without employer-based health insurance. Qualified customers will be able to buy health plans through the help of government subsidies so they are covered as of Jan. 1.

“For the first time in the history of the private insurance market, consumers will be able to go to one place to check out their coverage options, get accurate information in easy-to-understand language and make apples-to-apples comparisons of plans before they make their decision,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Until recently, the administration felt it had no product to push. But with open enrollment roughly three months away, pressure has mounted on the administration to deliver on its mission to help millions of Americans gain health insurance.

“I think this was the right move,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and key architect of health care reform in Massachusetts and Mr. Obama’s law. “It is really hard to sell something that isn’t yet on the shelves.”

The administration and its allies, notably Enroll America, are pushing back against opponents of “Obamacare” with a media blitz, door-to-door canvassing and public events designed to direct potential enrollees to the exchanges.

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The Department of Health and Human Services reportedly asked professional sports leagues to help them promote the law’s benefits. The leagues reach a wide audience, especially the young and healthy crowd the administration is trying to court so premiums on the exchange do not soar from an influx of older, sicker patients.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the NFL has been “very actively and enthusiastically engaged” in the discussions, according to The Hill newspaper.

“Our only comment is that we have nothing to report at this time,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “There was a similar report last week about the NBA.”

The government’s revamped website, healthcare.gov, features sleeker graphics than its earlier iteration and features a “Start Now” button that guides users through the law’s benefits. There is a Spanish-language version of the site, cuidadodesalud.gov, and the government’s call center will accommodate 150 languages through interpretation services, HHS said.

Mrs. Sebelius has promised lawmakers that the exchanges will open on time, despite reports of missed deadlines in a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, said the federal government’s ability to coordinate with the states is a concern, but noted “the GAO is paid to worry.”

Even so, wariness of the law abounds on Capitol Hill. Republican lawmakers are touting the potential pitfalls of Mr. Obama’s overhaul with told-you-so speeches on rising premiums and public hearings that allow witnesses to air their complaints about the reforms.

They’ve turned a remark by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat — that the overhaul could be a “train wreck” if the administration does not better educate the public — into a rallying cry for opposition to the law.

Facing these critics, Enroll America President Anne Filipic filmed a three-minute video this month to explain the law’s benefits and launch the group’s “Get Covered America” campaign. The video, like the government’s website, tries to boil down the law into easy-to-understand options.

Yet surveys suggest the law’s supporters face an uphill battle. A June tracking poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found the negative views of the law still outpace positive views.

Mr. Mendelson said the time was right for the Obama administration to kick its efforts into high gear, since the earlier part of the year was dominated by debate over fiscal discipline and other topics.

But challenges remain, he said, contrasting it to when he helped the Clinton administration implement the Children’s Health Insurance Program with much broader support on the Hill.

“The efforts right now are underfunded,” he said, “and they’re also complicated by the fact that half of Congress is opposed to the [law’s] construct and vocal about it.”

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

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