WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton agreed to lend his weight to President Barack Obama's effort at educating people about the U.S. health-care overhaul, a helping hand needed to combat confusion as key parts of the law begin Oct. 1.
Clinton, a two-term U.S. president who left office in 2001, will promote the Affordable Care Act in a Sept. 4 speech from his museum in Little Rock, Ark., according to a statement today from his philanthropic foundation. A White House aide, Dan Pfeiffer, welcomed Clinton's help and quipped on Twitter that the former president is "the Secretary of Explaining Stuff."
Obama has called on the former president's star power before, including during his 2012 re-election campaign. Clinton appeared at high-dollar fundraising events and in campaign ads that culminated in a rousing speech to the Democratic National Convention that helped to clarify Obama's economic policies and accomplishments for independent and undecided voters.
"He generally is very effective at what people call retail politics; talking about things as they directly affect people's lives," Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in a telephone interview.
The challenge now is to surmount political opposition and public confusion about the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the largest regulatory overhaul of health care since the 1960s. More than 40 percent of people remain unsure whether the law is still on the books, according to a poll today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit based in Menlo Park, Calif.
"People who are concerned about this bill are afraid that things in their lives aren't going to go right -- their health insurance rates may go up, they may have to change policies, their taxes are going to go up," Blendon said.
The Affordable Care Act aims to reduce medical costs and extend insurance coverage to at least half of the nation's 50 million uninsured. A key pillar of the law starts Oct. 1, when people who lack health insurance can begin buying coverage through new marketplaces in every state called exchanges.
The Obama administration is racing to publicize the opportunity, particularly in states run by Republicans who have rejected the law and aren't helping to implement it.
Opinion of the health law has been largely unchanged since Obama signed, with slightly more Americans opposed than in favor, Blendon said. Even Clinton will have trouble turning that around, though the transition into "the second phase of this issue," where Americans begin to experience the law's benefits and costs first hand, offers an opportunity, he said.
Clinton plans to speak about "the critical role a high quality, affordable and accessible health care system plays in the" U.S., according to the Clinton Foundation statement.
Clinton's own attempt to overhaul the U.S. health-care system in 1993 ended in disaster when Congress failed to pass legislation and his party lost control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 elections. Democrats steered clear of the issue for more than a decade thereafter.
Clinton's popularity has grown since he left office in January 2001. A Gallup poll last year showed about 70 percent of Americans view the former president favorably.