The road to Obamacare enrollment runs through City Hall.
The Obama administration is relying on friendly mayors to coordinate enrollment efforts, circumvent tricky state politics and put a local stamp on the vast federal law. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has stood alongside mayors in at least seven cities in the past three weeks as she has taken the sign-up message across the country and rubbed elbows with dozens of other mayors at a recent conference in Washington.
“We’re the fourth-largest market in the United States,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said after bantering with Sebelius in the hallway at the January meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “A lot of uninsured and underinsured folks.”
To allies, the strategy is a no-brainer. Cities are where the people are. Mayors know them best.
“Washington is about as popular as snow in July in most of these cities, any place, really,” said Clarence Anthony, executive director of the National League of Cities. “The mayors are going to have a lot more impact in talking about [Obamacare] than people from Washington, including — and I hate to say this — the secretary or the president.”
And the biggest cities tend to skew Democratic, making mayors in those cities natural allies to carry the Obama administration’s message, even in more conservative states. The White House has also reached out to local media and state officials to get the message beyond the Beltway.
An HHS official said municipal leaders in 21 regions have been tapped to develop what they’re calling “coordinating tables” — partnerships between elected officials, local advocates and national organizations, working to get people enrolled in Obamacare coverage by March 31, when the first year’s sign-up season ends.