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Obama to talk up health reform law – every day

President Barack Obama is set to defend his health reform law Tuesday, his second major attempt at damage control in just two months.

He’ll kick off a campaign to talk up the benefits of the 2010 law, which was designed to get health insurance to the more than 40 million Americans who don’t have any, curb what the administration terms abusive practices of the insurance industry and take the first steps to better coordinating medical care.

He'll focus on Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act aims to get people insured not only through buying health insurance on the state and federal online exchanges, but also through an expansion of Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance plan for low-income and disabled people. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report Tuesday showing that more than 1.46 million people have found out they're eligible for Medicaid since the exchanges opened Oct. 1.

"In October, in states that are fully participating in the expansion of Medicaid coverage made possible by the law, we’ve seen a more than 15 percent jump in applications compared to the average monthly enrollment in July through September. This shows a real need and desire for coverage for low income Americans," the Health and Human Services Department says in a blog post.

The rollout of the exchanges has been a disaster, and an easy target for critics of health reform.

Obama administration officials said one million visitors piled onto the website on Monday, fulfilling predictions of a big Cyber Monday rush. But although officials had promised the website could handle as many as 50,000 people at once, the newly repaired site appeared to stagger under the weight and technicians deployed a waiting room system once 30,000 users were all trying to browse at once. 

Users complained of many of the same problems that a big tech surge was supposed to have fixed – slow page loading times, inexplicable error messages and other holdups. And problems persist with the important final steps of enrollment, when people actually pay for their new insurance plans and get enrolled.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says her office will follow up with people whose applications are not quite complete to make sure they know they have to finish up. 

Incoming White House economic adviser Jeff Zients, who has led the repair effort, said his team had fixed many of the problems. Zients said he changed the management structure for the site, appointing a single main contractor, adding server capacity, more robust software and setting up a command center. 

The repair efforts and the site’s continued troubles have dominated news media coverage, not to mention hearings in Congress. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been summoned for another hearing before a House committee later this month. Republicans have been asking about why the site’s rollout was so bungled and raising questions about its security.

Obama has apologized for some of the missteps, saying he was wrong to promise people they could keep even insurance policies that didn’t meet the new law’s requirements. But he’s also been trying to focus attention elsewhere, holding conference calls to push for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more people and talking up the law’s benefits.

Senior administration officials told Politico that the White House will coordinate a daily campaign to emphasize a different benefit each day between now and Dec. 23. That’s the last day people can sign up for insurance that will start the first possible day, Jan. 1. 

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