With the federal health insurance exchange now operating more smoothly for most users, President Obama assembled 160 youth leaders at the White House on Wednesday, enlisting them to help sign up their peers for health insurance — a crucial factor in whether his signature law will succeed.
As the student body presidents and youth activists gathered for an afternoon of seminars with White House officials and leaders of allied groups, a new poll showed that the administration and its allies have their work cut out for them.
At a time when the administration hopes to sign up 2.7 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 35, a Harvard Institute of Politics survey showed that millennials are increasingly skeptical of the healthcare law and less enthusiastic about the president himself.
But Obama told his young fans he hoped they hadn’t been “discouraged by how hard it’s been,” while acknowledging the troubles with the federal exchange. “I need your help; that’s why you’re here, because you know I need your help.”
In brief remarks before the afternoon seminars on enrollment began, the president said: “Stuff that’s worth it is always hard. The civil rights movement was hard. Getting women the right to vote — that was hard. Making sure that workers had the right to organize — that was hard. Don’t get discouraged. Be persistent. You may get a few gray hairs as a consequence, but I think at the end of the day you’ll think it’s worth it.”
Obama also drew laughter by taking shots at the conservative groups running ads encouraging the repeal of the law and holding events to dissuade Americans from signing up through the exchanges. Urging young Americans not to sign up for health insurance is “really a bizarre way to spend your money,” he said.
“Remind your friends and your peers — imagine what happens if you get sick, what happens with the massive bills. The people who are running those ads, they’re not going to pay for your illness,” he said. “You’re going to pay for it or your family is going to pay for it. And that’s hard to imagine.”
In parting, Obama asked his guests to use their email lists and radio shows to “help people learn the facts.” And he asked them to strategize about innovative ways to get their friends signed up — “if you’re a bartender, have a happy hour,” he said.