Obama urged Organizing for Action volunteers to help him spread "far and wide" the good news of the Affordable Care Act, which he said had always been about "making the insurance market better for everybody."
"That was part of the promise," Obama told the crowd, explaining that he always meant to convey that people could keep an old healthcare plan "if it hadn’t changed since the law was passed."
Obama hasn’t always added that last clause, of course, and that failure has fueled the controversy around the healthcare marketplaces he launched Oct. 1. As it turns out, as many as 4 million people might have to give up plans they acquired since the law was passed if the plans don’t meet the Affordable Care Act's minimum requirements of coverage.
At the gathering in Washington, Obama retooled his explanation, pointing to the days when the individual health market had "no standards" and promising a better day for those who sign up during the open enrollment period between now and March 31.
In the lead-up to Obama’s appearance at the St. Regis hotel a few blocks from the White House, his allies and former advisors used campaign-style language – encouraging activists to keep up "the fight" and activate an "army" of volunteers to help Americans enroll.
Striking a similar theme, Obama joked that "a lot of us didn’t realize that passing the law was the easy part." The president also suggested that stories about "controversies" were getting more news coverage than the anecdotes about Americans who had been able to sign up for healthcare coverage for the first time.
To that end, he told the crowd of supporters that he needed their help. "I’ve got one more campaign in me – the campaign to make sure that this law works for every single person in this country," Obama said.
Despite the troubles that have fouled the insurance website, Obama tried to reassure his emissaries that they could promote his plan in good conscience. There’s still time to get the website up and running and get people enrolled, he said. "It’s not like this is a one-day sale."
The long-planned Obamacare summit organized by Organizing for Action, the nonprofit formed by Obama’s 2012 advisors, comes at a crucial time for the president's healthcare program. Many states, including California, are still struggling to get enrollment counselors and healthcare educators in place to sign up those seeking insurance. In states where Republican leaders are actively resisting implementation, there is not much of a public education campaign about the law.
During "breakout sessions" that stretched for much of the day, onetime volunteers, campaign alumni, former Obama for American donors and healthcare activists from around the country were encouraged to share ideas about encouraging enrollment and publicizing the more positive aspects of the law.
Both David Plouffe, Obama’s former White House advisor, and Organizing for Action Executive Director Jon Carson acknowledged "the setbacks" related to healthcare.gov, but encouraged the 200 activists to make "concrete plans" for getting Americans enrolled over the next five months and counter the "misinformation" around the country.
"You guys know how to organize, you know how to work social networks," Plouffe said. "We are going to need you to get the word out."
Plouffe said there was a silver lining to the problems with the healthcare.gov website. Because of the news coverage, he said, more Americans were talking about the law and the fact that they could sign up for health insurance through the new exchanges.
Organizing for Action activists have been working with other groups to try to reach the uninsured across America, but their attention has been diverted to other issues like gun control and climate change. Advisors signaled that the president’s healthcare law would become a far more central focus as they headed into the holiday season.
"We're going to have plenty of time to do what we need to do," Plouffe said.