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Obamacare Supporters To Fight Back Against Public Confusion Over New Law

06/18/2013 03:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013

Get ready to start hearing a whole lot more about Obamacare. Advocates are gearing up for sweeping campaigns to shift the conversation this summer and fall from politics to the practical effects the health care reform law will have on consumers.

Enroll America, a coalition of groups supportive of the Affordable Care Act, announced the first phase of its public education campaign Tuesday, which will promote the health insurance exchanges where people will be able to comparison shop for coverage beginning in just over 100 days.

Ginning up enthusiasm, spreading accurate information about how people can access health care coverage and breaking through the political noise are major challenges facing supporters of President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Opinion polls continue to show the law is unpopular and, perhaps worse, illustrate that the public remains poorly informed about what Obamacare aims to do. The confusion is especially pervasive among the poor and uninsured -- the very people who the law should help the most.

The White House is confident it has a strategy in place that will reach those most likely to benefit, said Valerie Jarrett, a special adviser to Obama. "We'll have a whole campaign to encourage people who are not insured to sign up at the exchanges," she said.

"We will be engaging a broad spectrum of stakeholders: everything from college campuses to pharmacists to sports teams to the business community. There are so many people who have the ability to touch the American people, and we will be involving everybody in that process," Jarrett said during a brief interview.

Enroll America will be a crucial player in the effort to meet those goals. The coalition will bring progressive health care reform advocacy groups like Families USA together with health care industry organizations including Blue Shield of California and the American Hospital Association.

Starting this week, Enroll America is staging more than 50 local events in 18 states, including door-to-door home visits and appearances at gathering places like churches and farmers' markets, the organization announced in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "We'll be engaging Americans in their homes and communities," said Ann Filipic, Enroll America's president and a former White House official.

By 2023, 27 million fewer people will be uninsured because of the health care reform law, according to the Congressional Budget Office. For 2014, the Obama administration is eyeing a smaller target: 7 million people enrolled in private health insurance via the law's exchange marketplaces. Another 8 million low-income people will enroll in Medicaid, the CBO projects.

The exchanges are where individuals who don't get health benefits at work will shop among health insurance plans, and those earning between the poverty level, which is $11,490 for a single person this year, and four times that amount can learn whether they qualify for financial assistance or Medicaid. Coverage through the exchanges will take effect January 1.

Enroll America acknowledges the lack of public awareness about Obamacare is a major obstacle. "Our research has shown 78 percent of the uninsured aren't aware of what's even coming their way," Filipic said. "Part of our goal is to change that number."

Organizing for Action, an offshoot of the president's election campaign, began airing an advertisement on cable television this week highlighting aspects of the law that already are in place, such as a provision enabling young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance plans until they turn 26 years old and the rebates some insurers had to issue to customers last year.

These summertime campaigns are merely preludes to the bigger outreach push that will roll out this fall and throughout the six-month enrollment period, which runs through March. "You want outreach and communications with frequency and intensity in the period when people can go online and sign up," said Tara McGuinness, a senior communications advisor in the White House.

The Obama administration is focusing its efforts on 29 states -- many of them in the South -- that are home to more than half of the nation's uninsured, according to a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services document distributed at a White House meeting last week, Buzzfeed reported Tuesday. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will make public appearances in 16 cities, including four in Texas, according to the document. Agencies across the federal government have been encouraged to add links on their websites to health care reform resources and to participate in a social media campaign, Buzzfeed reported.

The real action will take place on the ground in communities across the United States. The federal government and some states are staffing up call centers and assembling teams of "navigators" and "in-person assisters" tasked with getting the word out and helping people sign up for coverage. Organizing for Action, Enroll America and others are preparing to mobilize thousands of volunteers. Community health centers and other medical providers also will play a role.

Outreach activities will target those most likely to lack health coverage and to qualify for subsidies or Medicaid, including young adults, Hispanics and the poor, and will focus on communities with high numbers of uninsured people, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. The White House plans to use the same strategy, according to the Buzzfeed report.

"In areas where you have these high concentrations of uninsured people, there's going to be a significant outreach and advertising and people-on-the-ground effort to notify people about what they're newly eligible for," Pollack said. "We're going to move very soon to a period when communications that people are interested in will be personal rather than political."

The success of the enrollment effort largely will be determined at the local level. In Kentucky, for example, the state's health insurance exchange, called Kynect, will host events at the state fair and in rural communities across the state, said Regan Hunt, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health.

"Talking to a person one-on-one is so much more effective than any sort of blanket marketing campaign outreach you can do," Regan said. The Louisville-based nonprofit she leads will focus its efforts on outreach at community centers, churches, schools, health fairs and the like in seven small communities, Regan said.

Regan herself will be a test case for how well Obamacare is working because she will be shopping for health insurance on Kentucky's exchange. "I will be a walking advertisement for how successful, how good this process is," she said. "If it's not very easy, I'm going to have a hard time going out and selling people to do this. So they have a tough customer in me."

This story has been updated with additional information about the White House's outreach plans.

HuffPost readers: We want to know what you've been hearing about President Obama's health care plan. If you've been contacted by Enroll America, or by groups that oppose Obamacare, let us know. You can forward any emails, letters or recordings of phone calls you've received here.

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