For Democrats like Stacey Abrams, Georgia's House minority leader, advocating for the Affordable Care Act in a strongly conservative state is a daunting task. Her Republican colleagues, who control the state legislature, are staunch opponents of the law, and Gov. Nathan Deal is one of 20 GOP governors who rejected the Medicaid expansion.
That alone would seem like enough for state Rep. Abrams and her Democratic colleagues to tackle, but it doesn't end there. Last month, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, another Georgia Republican, chaired a congressional oversight hearing in Gainesville during which a handful of cherry-picked witnesses spoke only of being harmed by the health care law.
Georgia is also home to Ralph Hudgens, the Republican state insurance commissioner who drew sharp criticism this week when a camera caught him likening pre-existing conditions to a car wreck in which the driver is at fault. Hudgens also bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans in August about GOP efforts to destroy the law.
"Let me tell you what we’re doing [about Obamacare]: everything in our power to be an obstructionist," Hudgens said.
But despite the litany of obstacles facing Obamacare in her state, Abrams said that Georgians are "hungry for information" on what the law means for them and how they can sign up. She has made it her mission to bring that directly to them, by leading events explaining the Affordable Care Act to people across Georgia, many of whom have spent decades waiting for access to health insurance.
"What we have is that people are hungry for information. They desperately want to know what's going on," Abrams told The Huffington Post in an interview Thursday. "They want to know how this impacts them because they realize, whether they're Democrat or Republican, they are going to be held accountable for getting health insurance."
"But even more importantly, they want it," she added. "A lot of the communities we're speaking to have been denied access to health care either because of cost or because of pre-existing conditions or because they didn't have an option."
Since August, Abrams and her colleagues have reached out to discuss Obamacare on 40 occasions, from town hall meetings to teleconferences. Unlike most local events with state legislators, Abrams said empty seats are hard to come by at the Obamacare forums, prompting her to extend the activities through January.
"A big part of it is how we frame it. There isn't the hostility to us sharing this information," she said, noting that their primary objective is to arm individuals with information about the law, not to discuss its politics.
A typical event consists of legislators translating the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, down to such basics as explaining deductibles and co-pays to individuals who have never had health insurance before. Now that the functionality of Healthcare.gov has improved, Abrams and her team have launched "Enrollment Saturdays" for people to come in and access both the technology and the human navigators who can help them sign up on the health care exchange.
States such as Texas and California have adopted similar outreach tactics, underscoring how critical on-the-ground operations are to meeting the law's primary objective of expanding coverage to the uninsured.
Abrams conceded the problems that plagued the Obamacare rollout over the last couple of months...
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