Speaking to Latinos in New Orleans, first lady pitches Obamacare

First lady Michelle Obama attends the ceremony to present the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2013. The 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award is the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, mobilizing millions of people to take action that is changing the world and recognizes individuals who are making a difference through service and volunteerism. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) First lady Michelle Obama at the White House on July 15. (Susan Walsh/AP)

While it's become routine for Michelle Obama to discuss childhood obesity and nutrition to groups across the country, she made a new pitch Tuesday  to the National Council of La Raza: Sign up for health insurance this fall.

Speaking at the group's annual conference, the first lady urged attendees to get young people and anyone else to register for insurance starting Oct. 1, when the federal health-care law known as "Obamacare" enters its next critical stage.

"Are you listening? The minute you get back home from this conference, we need you to get out there and educate everyone you know about what health reform means for them.  And I’m talking about making sure they understand the real facts," she said. "Tell them that starting October the 1st, they need to sign up for insurance.  Explain to them that the first step in signing up is to create an account, which they can easily do by going to healthcare.gov or cuidadodesalud — starting on July 31st, just eight days from today."

Obama focused on the importance of young people, who are critical to the plan's success because they tend to be healthy, and therefore lower the cost of premiums for other people in the system. The administration has estimated that they need to sign up 2.7 million young Americans  to meet their near-term enrollment goals; on Monday, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett met with several celebrities, including Kal Penn and Amy Poehler, to discuss how they could reach out to young Americans and convince them to enroll.

"And we all have someone in our lives — some wonderful young person, son or daughter, niece, nephew, grandchild, neighbor — walking around today without any insurance because they don’t think they need it or don’t know where to go and get it," she said. "And we all have the power and the urgent responsibility to get after our young people and get them to sign up.  Because while they may roll their eyes for a moment, we know that when Mama and Abuela speak, they listen.  That's where you come in."

Both the administration and their allies — including groups such as Enroll America and Organizing for Action — are targeting  Texas, Florida and California, which are the richest targets of opportunity. Obama noted that "one-third of the young people we need to reach live in those states," adding, "And whether they’re healthy or not, we have got to make sure that our young people understand that regular checkups and preventive care are as much a part of life as brushing their teeth and paying their bills."

And while the first lady also talked up the importance of working out and eating healthy foods, she made it clear that she is "not a treat hater," especially when visiting the rich food mecca of New Orleans.

"For example, I eat a balanced diet and I work out every single day of the week with very few exceptions. But let me tell you something, while I am here in New Orleans today," she said, prompting laughter, "everyone understand there is no way I am leaving this city without a good meal. No way. Not happening."

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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