Organizers trying to drum up support for Affordable Care Act

Anne Jones
Anne Jones, Minneapolis, at the Minneapolis Farmer Minneapolis Farmers Market canvassing for Organizing for Action. The non-profit group, an offshoot of President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, aims to support his national agenda.
MPR Photo/Catharine Richert

Anne Jones recently visited the Minneapolis Farmers Market to pass out fliers she hoped would debunk persistent myths about the federal health care overhaul.

"We're trying to counter the notion that this is a government takeover of the health care system," said Jones, of Minneapolis, a member of Organizing for Action. The non-profit group, an offshoot of President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, aims to support his national agenda.

Erick Kadlec of Minneapolis was one of the minds Jones hoped to change. Kadlec took a pass on the flier and said the law needs to be repealed.

"They can't even run the government as it is right now, and now they want to run our healthcare, too?," Kadlec said of the Obama Administration. "That's nuts. It's going to bankrupt this country."

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Erick Kadlec
Erick Kadlec, Minneapolis, at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Kadlec thinks the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.
MPR Photo/Catharine Richert

This study in contrasts happened last month, but it just as easily could have been a scene from the summer of 2009 during the heated national debate before the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land.

Three and a half years after the president signed the bill into law, myths about the legislation still persist.

Over the course of the next few months, as most of the final pieces of the Affordable Care Act are implemented, supporters of Obama's single largest domestic achievement will be making an aggressive push to drum up support for the law and educate the public about what they see as its benefits.

At the center of the education campaign is Organizing for Action, which will be working closely with Enroll America, another group with close ties to the White House. Both organizations have raised and spent money on ads to promote the law, and will be working across the nation to convince the uninsured to seek coverage through the state and federal health insurance exchanges. The online marketplaces are key parts of the effort to help people enroll in health plans they can afford.

The White House will step in, too, sending Vice President Joe Biden, his wife and First Lady Michelle Obama to states where participation in the new insurance exchanges is lagging.

In Minnesota, campaign volunteers will work the phones and go door-to-door to encourage people to use MNsure, Minnesota's exchange. To target the right people, they'll be using a list developed at OFA headquarters in Chicago. Data miners there have produced a roster of people likely to be uninsured, drawn from a vast, finely-tuned database of Obama's campaign supporters in 2008 and 2012. Volunteers will direct potential enrollees to "navigators," groups that have received state grants to help people use MNsure.

Practically speaking, the campaign is ramping up at an opportune time. The exchanges, including MNsure, open for business Oct. 1.

But the Obamacare cheerleaders have their work cut out for them. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows half of Americans think they don't have enough information about the law. The numbers are particularly high among people who don't have insurance and people who have low incomes - precisely the populations that the law is aimed at helping.

Convincing young, healthy people to buy insurance through the exchanges may be the most difficult - but arguably the most important - part of the job, said University of Minnesota political science professor Lawrence Jacobs, who has written extensively about the politics of health care reform. The premiums that young, healthy people pay are key to holding down prices for everyone.

The exchanges were sold on the idea that they would make insurance more accessible and more affordable. But if they only attract older, relatively sicker customers, premiums will be more expensive, and could jeopardize the law's effectiveness.

If that's the case, it could spell political trouble for Obama, Jacobs said.

"If Americans don't come to understand health reform or remain confused or mistaken about health reform, it will be perhaps the biggest stain on the Obama legacy," he said.

For Anne McGarry, who joined Anne Jones canvassing shoppers at the farmers market, educating people about the law is a matter of safeguarding its survival. Too many people in Washington want to repeal Obamacare, she said.

"We need to make sure that people see the benefits to it, so that down the road when there's yet another push to try and get rid of this law, they say 'I'm not going to allow you to take this away from me,'" she said.

Despite their efforts, Erick Kadlec was not persuaded, repeating exactly the sentiment Jones and McGarry were trying to counter: the health care law amounts to a government takeover of health care.

"We live in a democracy," he said. "I don't live in a socialist country; I don't live in a communist country."