September 4, 2013

Bill Clinton stumps for health-care law

The speech comes with the Affordable Care Act in final countdown mode, just a few weeks before the Oct. 1 launch of online health insurance markets.

By JULIET EILPERIN The Washington Post

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — President Barack Obama deployed his highest-profile spokesman yet on Wednesday to tout his far-reaching health-care law: the 42nd president of the United States. And Bill Clinton even stuck to the script.

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Former President Bill Clinton speaks about health care at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Clinton’s speech comes with the Affordable Healthcare Act in final countdown mode, just a few weeks before the scheduled Oct. 1 launch of online health insurance markets in the states. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

As Obama and his aides try to win support for a military strike against Syria, the White House remains focused on raising the public profile of the Affordable Care Act, which is weeks away from the most critical stage of its implementation.

That effort includes enlisting the help of Clinton — memorably dubbed "the Secretary of Explaining Stuff" — as well as celebrities, insurance companies and activists to promote the health-care initiative and explain to eligible Americans how they can sign up for coverage starting Oct. 1.

The push comes amid continued Republican opposition of the law, including attempts at the state and federal levels to erect roadblocks in its path.

In a speech in Little Rock, Ark., Clinton argued Wednesday that both opponents and supporters of the law have an obligation to make it work. Saying he "actually wrote this whole thing out" to get the details right, Clinton said the law has yielded benefits, such as reducing medical errors and introducing "competitive bidding for durable medical equipment."

"It seems to me that the benefits of reform can't be fully realized, and the problems can't be fixed, unless both the supporters and the opponents of the legislation work together to implement it," Clinton said.

With less than a month to go before open enrollment begins for state and federal insurance exchanges nationwide, the law's proponents are convening town hall meetings, buying airtime, distributing leaflets and firing off tweets aimed at trying to convince Americans that it's worth navigating uncertain terrain and paying the required premiums to get ensured.

Tara McGuinness, White House senior communications adviser, said the administration is "one month out from the kickoff of a six-month public education campaign," adding that "most of the activity will happen once the marketplaces are open."

Even those who are most invested in having the law implemented acknowledge that large swaths of the public remain uninformed about the measure.

"Our expectation is there's a significant education effort that lies ahead," Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, said in an interview.

With millions of potential customers in the offing, insurers are poised to be among the administration's most valuable allies in the effort to register the uninsured. Insurance companies are expected to spend as much as $1 billion on advertising over the next two years — a blitz aimed in part at informing many Americans who do not realize the law is in effect.

Blue Cross and its affiliates have, among other things, distributed educational pamphlets at 8,000 Walgreens stores and started a website, AskBlue, which walks customers through the costs of different plans and the possible subsidies available to them. The company is in discussions with another retailer to have staff at stores to answer questions about the law, Sullivan said.

The insurer's affiliates have begun grass-roots efforts tailored to different constituencies, even in Republican-controlled states that aren't operating their own exchanges. BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana, for example, has a coalition that briefed the state's insurance commissioner Wednesday on the law's implementation, conducted webinars for local media and plans to place registration guides in the state's 340 public libraries.

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