Selling Obamacare: Is the White House Ready?

BY Beth Summers  July 3, 2013 at 4:56 PM EST

The business mandate within the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide coverage is now delayed, and that is prompting reaction from critics who say other parts of the law should be put on hold, too — if not eliminated entirely. One of the most crucial pieces of the new law will be the online insurance exchanges set to begin enrolling individuals in October.

White House adviser Valerie Jarrett insisted Tuesday the administration was “full steam ahead” on its implementation timeline.

In a blog post on the White House website, she wrote:

We are on target to open the Health Insurance Marketplace on October 1 where small businesses and ordinary Americans will be able to go to one place to learn about their coverage options and make side-by-side comparisons of each plan’s price and benefits before they make their decision.

Senior correspondent Ray Suarez sat down with deputy White House adviser David Simas last month for a different story about the strategy behind selling the Affordable Care Act to the public.

Simas said the first task for the White House is to raise awareness about the law and inform people about its benefits. He noted that the president has already been out promoting the law: for example, appearing on May 10 to talk about it with women and families.

“[T]hat’s the phase the president really began on Mother’s Day and we’re going to continue to ramp up through the summer,” Simas explained. “The next phase really turns into a more focused awareness where from September into the beginning of open enrollment, it’s really about saying to people look, here’s what the marketplaces are, here’s what they do.”

Simas said that in addition to partnering with states, the administration plans to work with non-profit organizations, churches and community health centers. He said the White House is looking at the October 1 enrollment start date as “a way finally to move [the Affordable Care Act] out of the political realm, where it has been for the past three and a half years, and into the personal realm.”

Watch a clip from the interview below.


Former Health and Human Services adviser Keith Nahigian, whose interview also took place in June before the new changes were announced, saw things differently. He helped implement the Medicare Part D prescription drug program under President George W. Bush. In the course of rolling that program out to the public, “We engaged 42 million senior citizens, 92 percent in nine months, and achieved quite a bit of success and favorable customer satisfaction,” Nahigian told the NewsHour.

Comparing the two efforts, Nahigian noted “it takes a lot of infrastructure in the community” to build support for a massive government-run health care program. He also referred to a recent national TV ad by the Obama campaign spin-off “Organizing For Action,” and to reports the administration is courting professional sports teams to promote the health care law. “You can’t just do that with a celebrity, you can’t just do that with a 30-second ad, you need to build it and it takes years, and thousands of events out in the community to do that,” he said.

Nahigian warned: “They’re starting too late and this is a long process, and if they don’t get it together, it’s going to fail.”

Watch a clip from that interview below.


Tune in to the PBS NewsHour Wednesday night for much more coverage on the changes to timeline of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. We’ll have more in the coming weeks about the exchanges.

Video shot by Cindy Huang and Charlie Voth. Jason Kane and Joshua Barajas contributed to this report.