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'Secretary of Explaining Stuff' to sell Obamacare

Athena Jones | 9/4/2013, 10:24 a.m.
President Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton backstage at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York on June 4, 2012. Pete Souza

— President Barack Obama once joked former President Bill Clinton should be appointed "Secretary of Explaining Stuff."

Clinton will try to prove Obama right in a speech defending the controversial - and still misunderstood - Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 law otherwise known as Obamacare on Wednesday at his presidential library in Little Rock, Akansas.

The White House has often turned to Clinton to help sell policy. In 2010, the former president held the floor in the White House briefing room for nearly 30 minutes to tout a tax cut deal reached with Republicans and just last year, he delivered a passionate defense of Obama administration policies, including Obamacare, at the Democratic National Convention.

"I think they've used him wisely and sparingly," said Matt McKenna, a Clinton spokesman.

Still, selling the health care overhaul - a law vital to Obama's legacy - could prove to be a big job, with polls still very much divided on it.

The speech at the Clinton Presidential Center - the beginning of a big public education push - will focus on "the critical role a high quality, affordable and accessible health care system plays in the United States and any country's economic and social well being," according to a release from the Clinton's charitable foundation.

While Clinton often mentions the ACA in speeches, today's address will be the first one focusing entirely on the law, McKenna said.

The pitch comes less than a month before the opening of the law's insurance marketplaces, the health care exchanges that form the core of the Act. Those exchanges need to enroll young, healthy participants to keep premiums low, but a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that while 51% of Americans don't have enough information to understand how the law will affect them, the number is even higher - 62% -- for the uninsured and for adults under 25, key groups the administration needs to reach.

"President Clinton's speech is part of ongoing outreach efforts around the Affordable Care Act about a month ahead of Marketplaces opening. These efforts will help to ensure that Americans know that there will be a simple way to get health insurance that will fit your needs, lifestyle, and budget at any income level, starting this fall," a White House official said. In it, he will "lay out in clear terms the benefits the law is already providing to millions of Americans and what new options will become available to consumers when the Health Insurance Marketplaces open on October 1."

The White House says Wednesday's speech is the first of a number of high profile events aimed at raising awareness about the three-year-old law. In addition to Clinton, the Obama team is deploying a number of administration officials across the government to promote and explain the law, along with DJs, librarians, faith leaders, pharmacies, celebrities and insurance companies, the official said.

McKenna said Obama asked Clinton to speak on the issue and the Clinton's foundation decided what he would say and where. About 250 people are expected to attend the event, including representatives from Arkansas' health care community, the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas legislators and state officials, members of the business community, students from the Clinton School of Public Service and groups affiliated with the president's foundation, like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative.