WASHINGTON — Next week the White House will gather communicators from across the federal government in what one attendee called a rare attempt at unifying the administration's message around one purpose: selling Obamacare.
While the near-daily stream of scandalous headlines is pushing a central goal of the president's second term — signing people up for health insurance under the new health care law — to the backburner in public, behind the scenes the White House is still focused like a laser on pulling off a smooth implementation of the massive health care changes signed into law three years ago.
That's where Tuesday's meeting of government agency social media directors and Chief Technology Officers comes in. According to an invitation to the Tuesday meeting shared with BuzzFeed, the host is the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs, and the stated purpose "is to make sure agencies are familiar with the new tools and resources available around ACA enrollment so we can best work together to outreach and engage with our audiences on this issue."
It's not often that the White House calls together all the government's online communicators to sell a single program, the invitee said.
"People share, but we're not called to the Crystal Palace like this," the official said.
It may be hard to imagine what, say, NASA or the ATF may have to add to the Obamacare sales pitch, but the breadth of the digital effort shows how the administration is attacking health care using the same innovative, flood-the-zone tactics the president's allies used to reelect him last year. That means a complex online operation, a reliance on highly motivated volunteers, microtargeting and bucking the narrative.
The White House hopes the next few months will be the summer of health care implementation: The administration is hoping around 7 million uninsured people sign up for the insurance coverage that will start Jan. 1, 2014, but who they really need to join the insurance rolls is 2.7 million uninsured young people. Having younger, healthier people buy insurance is key to expanding coverage to older, sicker people who are expensive to insure. The White House says they know where to find these people and how to reach them — a third live in California, Texas and Florida.
But much as he did with his reelection bid, Obama kicks off the campaign to make the ACA work with poll numbers that don't bode well for eventual success: many Americans remain wary of the health care law and the country hasn't exactly caught "exchange sign up fever."
But using tools and a sales pitch right out of it's campaign playbook, the White House says it will win despite odds that don't look great from the outset.
Obama will give an example of this Friday in California when he gives a speech praising the blue state's commitment to implementing the Affordable Care Act. Obama is expected to call California's exchange program a model for the nation. What does he love about it? California has put in place community partnerships officials say will allow supporters of the law to go street-by-street finding the uninsured needed to make the law work properly. Obama doesn't need all of America to love his signature accomplishment to make the law succeed. Many of the crucial uninsured the administration needs, according to the White House, live in minority neighborhoods where the president and his health care law are popular.
At a briefing with reporters last month and a conference call Thursday, senior administration officials have made one thing crystal clear: they know who they need to sign up for the health insurance when enrollment opens up in October, and they know where to find the people they need.
During the May briefing, officials showed granular maps of neighborhoods showing where the all-important uninsured young people live. For reporters who covered the 2012 campaign, the maps were familiar: they drew a striking resemblance to the micro-targeted field program Obama used to find Democratic votes in places Republicans thought were ruby red. Despite the fact that many of the people the administration needs to buy insurance live in enemy territory for Obamacare — Republican leaders of Texas and Florida aren't expected to lift a finger to help the health care law succeed — an administration on the conference call Thursday expressed confidence that they can spread the ACA word using a coalition of fired-up local leaders on a community-by-community basis.
Many of those communities are familiar territory for Obama officials with campaign experience. Young people are of course a big part of the president's base, and many of the specific young people the White House says it needs are Hispanic, a community Obama won by huge margins in the last election.
The White House already as an allied operation that knows how to activate these people: The millions of people who signed up for Obama's highly successful volunteer operation last year. Organizing for America, the pro-Obama group created out of Obama's 2012 operation, is expected to play a big role in helping spread the word about the law and getting uninsured people to sign up for coverage. OFA officials aren't talking on the record yet about their Obamacare plans, but privately tout the huge number of volunteers they have with sophisticated field experience.
Meanwhile, administration officials are reaching out to mayors and other local leaders to sell the law, assembling a core of allies remiscent of the campaign days, when mayors took a starring role in Obama's reelection bid.
Officials have been reportedly briefing sympathetic members of Congress on the law and urging them to hold townhall meetings and other education sessions, but 2014 is looming and some Democrats are looking to Obama to pull off a smooth implementation before they give his health care law a potentially risky political bearhug.
An uphill climb to national success featuring a crowd full of wary Democrats on the sidelines is a situation Obama has faced at least twice before and thrived in. Using the tools he used to win elections in 2008 and 2012 the president's allies say he can succeed agaist the odds a third time.
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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