White House Plans Post-Passage Campaign to Support Health Measure

By LAURA MECKLER
3/19/10

WASHINGTON—The White House plans to launch a public relations campaign promoting the health care overhaul if and when it passes, and it has already identified individuals whose stories the president would highlight.

At the same time, supportive outside groups are planning television ads and events around the country promoting and explaining the legislation, if it becomes law, and they are considering creating a new nonprofit organization to orchestrate their message, according to people familiar with the planning.

Together, the efforts would aim to reshape public attitudes, which run against the bill. They could provide political cover for lawmakers who voted for the measure and face tough races this fall.

Complicating the effort is that most of the provisions would not take effect until 2014, including the new exchanges, or marketplaces, that would sell insurance under new rules and with federal subsidies for some consumers. So, the White House plans to highlight provisions that take effect right away.

Those include new rules that bar insurers from rejecting children because they are already sick. The White House has already identified specific parents of sick children who are willing to tell their stories.

It’s not clear how much success the White House will have. The Obama administration tried hard to make the case for the economic stimulus plan after it became law, but polls show that the stimulus remains unpopular.

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who tracks attitudes on health care, said that the intensity of opposition may soften if the bill passes. But he doubts that overall public views will shift much.

“After a year, people feel like they’ve made up their minds, and it will be a little difficult to change them,” he said. “There’s not that much time left between now and November.”

Among advocates of the legislation, some of the advertising would be done by outside groups such as Families USA, a consumer group. Ron Pollack, president of the group, said planning is under way to run TV ads and to stage events around the country.

For their part, opponents plan to continue their attacks on the measure even if it becomes law.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, said Republicans will continue to pound Democrats for special deals in the Senate bill, even those that are repealed through passage of a companion piece of legislation.

Another problem for Democrats: cuts to private Medicare Advantage plans begin in 2011. If insurers pull out of some markets, as they have in reaction to past cuts, seniors may complain and put added pressure on Democrats.

Mr. Steel said Republicans will also focus on an increase in funding for the Internal Revenue Service, which must implement the requirement that people get insurance.

“Does anyone think this bill gets more popular when the American public begins to feel the effect of tax hikes, Medicare cuts and an army of new IRS agents?” he asked.

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com

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