POLITICO: House Democrats gear up for Affordable Care Act outreach


By Jennifer Haberkorn

Democrats on Capitol Hill are beginning a significant outreach effort to get lawmakers prepared for Obamacare enrollment, which will begin Oct. 1.

House Democratic leaders have asked each member to designate a district office contact on the health law, planned state-by-state training sessions with administration officials and distributed Q & As on how to sign up for health coverage.

White House advisers have held several recent meetings on Capitol Hill to coordinate messaging on the law.

“We’re working closely with the House and Senate to educate members and the public about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and the opening of the marketplaces in the fall,” said Tara McGuinness, a senior White House communications adviser working on the health law.

The next few months will be critical. As Republicans ramp up attacks on the law’s flaws, Democrats are trying to defend the legislation as well as prepare constituents for enrollment in a new and unfamiliar system.

Before members left for the Memorial Day recess, Democratic lawmakers and staff in the House and Senate met separately with McGuinness and Jeanne Lambrew from the White House, Mike Hash from the HHS Office of Health Reform and Small Business Administration officials, including Administrator Karen Mills.

In the House, members were issued an ACA “toolkit” binder with details of the law, including frequently asked questions from constituents and responses to Republican “myths.” House Democratic aides say this is just the start of what will be months of communication around the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. They’re working closely with the administration and other supporters of the law to ensure that the enrollment period goes as smoothly as possible.

For instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is setting up a phone line for Hill staffers who have specific constituent questions on the law. It is scheduled to go live June 1.

“Reforming our health care system is an historic opportunity to make health care more affordable and bring the kind of change we were all elected to achieve for the American people,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a member letter along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Robert Andrews, co-chairs of the Steering and Policy Committee. “Nothing could be more important, which is why we now want to educate our constituents about the new law, help implement it and strengthen the hands of those who have worked for this historic reform.”

The message sent to members is that the ACA is about securing affordable, quality and accessible health care as a right for all Americans, as well as improving wellness, prevention and overall health. Democratic leaders stress that there is already a lot of good news — such as 105 million Americans already having access to preventive services without a co-pay and 17 million children who can no longer get denied because of pre-existing conditions.

The timing on this rollout is a balancing act. Democratic members are anxious to get information on the upcoming enrollment dates, but consumers won’t be able to sign up until Oct. 1 for coverage that starts Jan. 1. The law’s backers don’t want to advertise enrollment too much before consumers can actually take action.

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