The Magazine

Hard Sell

Going door-to-door for Obamacare

Dec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By MATT LABASH
Widget tooltip
Audio version Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Hollywood, Fla.
Standing here on the streets of Hollywood with two comely Obamacare cheerleaders by my side, I’m feeling fired up and ready to go. I’m feeling like the change I’ve been waiting for. I’m feeling like whatever Obama cliché you can think of. And all I want to say, like the late Todd Beamer before me, is, “Let’s roll.” Or more like, “Let’s enroll.” Because much as Beamer, God rest his soul, took on the terrorists who tried to take down America, we are now in a similar cataclysmic fight: the fight to guarantee that every American has the right to buy overpriced health insurance on a glitchy website, under threat of punitive tax penalties. 

Gary Locke

Gary Locke

I’ve come to Florida to go door-to-door with the foot soldiers of Get Covered America, the boots-on-the-ground division of Enroll America, which bills itself as a “nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to maximize the number of uninsured Americans who enroll in health coverage made available by the Affordable Care Act.” These Obamacare evangelists are very serious about the “nonpartisan” nature of their business. Nearly every Enroll America staffer I speak to emphasizes it, often repeatedly. And while it might strain credulity that an organization is nonpartisan which seeks to make sure people are Obamacared for by setting $100 million fundraising goals for itself, and conducting $5 million ad campaigns, and targeting 10 different states, 9 of which are coincidentally run by Republican governors, I choose to take them at their word. 

After all, Enroll America boasts all manner of nonpartisan credentials. Most of its staffers seem to have worked in the nonpartisan Obama presidential campaigns of 2008 or 2012, often both. Its president, Anne Filipic, served as deputy executive director of the nonpartisan Democratic National Committee, and came here straight from the nonpartisan White House Office of Public Engagement. The nonpartisan Obamacare czar, Kathleen Sebelius (whom Filipic also worked for), has admitted putting the arm on companies to make donations to Enroll America, sparking several nonpartisan congressional investigations. 

And after decidedly partisan conservative gadfly James O’Keefe and his undercover Project Veritas crew caught Texas Enroll America communications director Chris Tarango on tape conspiring to help obtain a private list of potential Obamacare enrollee data for political purposes, a national Enroll America spokesman told me again: “Enroll America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization,” it doesn’t technically enroll people “so we don’t have any sensitive personal data,” and though the video “does not show any violation of our nonprofit status,” even the suggestion of any violation is “inappropriate” and the “employee seen in the video has resigned from his role with Enroll America.” 

With my nonpartisan concerns allayed, we’re ready to roll! At the Hollywood public library, I meet up with Get Covered America’s Katie Vicsik and Rhianna Hurt, 2 of 28 Florida staffers (they also have nearly 1,800 volunteers on the ground in the state). They are twentysomething, earnest, clipboard-carrying, and as adorable as speckled pups. They’re the Platonic ideal of Obama campaign staffers (which they both were) from back in the salad days, when the winds of hope’n’change blew across the prairie, and there was still dew on the world. 

To be sure, these Obamacare evangelists are not insurance saleswomen. They’re not closers. They don’t actually sign people up for policies in the Obamacare marketplace, but rather, direct them how to do so. They sing the attractively anodyne highlights of the program—“financial help is available,” no discrimination for preexisting conditions. They give phone numbers and information to help people meet in person with a Navigator (a contractor paid to guide enrollees through the process) and circumvent the plagued website. They are goodwill ambassadors. They are, in a sense, storytellers. And it’s a hard gig to be an Obamacare storyteller these days, because for the last two months, there have been so many stories told. Not good stories, either. In fact, if Obamacare threatens to bankrupt any industry, it’s the liberal-media-bias-watchdog industry. Since now, news outlets across the spectrum are falling over each other to tell Obamacare stories, mostly about how lousy Obamacare is. 

Recent Blog Posts