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Obama Launches Major New Online Tool To Reset Health Care Debate

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Barack Obama's campaign arm, Organizing for America, released on Tuesday a major new online tool designed to personalize the debate over health care reform and galvanize grassroots support for the president's plan.

The organization, started during the 2008 election, launched a new web page that officials are describing as a "health-care story bank." The site, officially titled "Health Care Stories for America," allows OFA's 13-million member list -- as well as countless others -- to share and find tales of individual health care struggles. Visitors can search for the stories by geography (using an online map), amplify the ones they find compelling through a voting mechanism, and describe experiences of their own. The goal, according to the site, is to illuminate a "common thread in crisis that affects us all."

"These stories -- told by hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans who have watched their premiums rise faster than wages, and spiraling costs shackle American business -- put a personal touch on the health care crisis," reads the page, shown in advance of its release to the Huffington Post.

The new OFA site reflects an amplified effort on the part of the White House and Democrats in general to find more avenues to pursue health care reform's passage. It also comes at a time when progressive activists, in and out of government, have begun pressing the Obama administration to take a more active role in the fight.

The strategy here seems two-fold. The first is to create the type of popular pressure that resonates among elected officials. An OFA official says they are hoping to "find a good story from every district and every state." The second and perhaps more important goal is to elevate gripping narratives of health care struggle that can help re-define the debate -- a counterpoint to the tales of long waits, overbearing bureaucracy, and government interference that conservatives claim will take place under Obama.

Already, the site includes what the aforementioned official said were "hundreds of thousands" of stories culled from its members, both online and during town hall meetings. And by including a feature that allows visitors to tag specific stories they like, the OFA staff believes they can essentially crowd-source the task of finding the most compelling ones.

As for the accuracy of the entries, OFA staff will do independent fact checking for those that are elevated by visitors. The site includes only general locations (not actual addresses) and first names to protect the privacy of the people who share their stories.

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