Tweeting for health care: White House networking to build support

In 140 characters or less, what does health insurance reform mean to you? The White House wants to know.

On Wednesday, the White House used a Twitter account to ask more than 820,000 followers to take a look at President Obama’s “8 fundamental health insurance consumer protections.” A subsequent tweet requested: “Tell us why these 8 h/c insurance consumer protections matter to you & we’ll RT [re-tweet] some of the best.”

As some polls show that public support for health-care reform is eroding, and as Congress prepares to adjourn until after Labor Day, Obama is broadcasting in various formats and venues and focusing on consumer protection.

Twitter, a social-networking tool, allows users to send messages of 140 characters or less. The White House is seeking comments on Facebook and YouTube as well.

President Obama holding a town hall meeting on health reform and business at a grocery store in Bristol, Va., Wednesday.

And Obama is using his personal Twitter account, with more than 1.8 million followers, to drum up support for his plan for health-care reform. There’s a race on to get 1 million signatures on a petition from Organizing for America’s Health Care Action Center.

Another petition drive
Call it the case of the dueling petitions. Conservative talk-radio hosts also are promoting a Free Our Health Care Now petition drive to oppose an overhaul of the health-care system. At last check, there were more than 888,500 signatures.

“Both of these [the petition drives] are strategies to influence whatever legislators are still on the fence, I would guess, in this debate on health care,” said research associate Eric J. Ostermeier, who writes the Smart Politics blog for the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.

Ostermeier said the dueling petitions and use of Twitter remind him of actor Ashton Kutcher’s challenge to CNN this year to be the first to get 1 million followers on Twitter.

“You have the talking point that the media can cite in the news cycle of who wins the battle [Kutcher won that one]. … “While this (health-care petition drive) is not quite the same, it’s another way to do it and Barack Obama is utilizing Twitter to win that battle.”

This week, Obama sent an older form of communication — an email — to friends, suggesting that they can help the cause of health reform by “putting these core principles of reform in the hands of your friends, your family, and the rest of your social network.”

He spelled out his reasons for the stepped-up communication in the email:

“Over the next month there is going to be an avalanche of misinformation and scare tactics from those seeking to perpetuate the status quo. But we know the cost of doing nothing is too high. Health care costs will double over the next decade, millions more will become uninsured, and state and local governments will go bankrupt.”

He sums up consumer protections in the email:

• No discrimination for pre-existing conditions
• No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pays
• No cost-sharing for preventive care
• No dropping of coverage if you become seriously ill
• No gender discrimination
• No annual or lifetime caps on coverage
• Extended coverage for young adults
• Guaranteed insurance renewal so long as premiums are paid

More details on the principles are here.

Latest polls
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll taken July 24-27 showed 46 percent of respondents disapproved of the “job Obama is doing in the handling of the issue of health care reform,” while 41 percent approved.

Meanwhile, a New York Times/CBS poll found “66 percent of respondents were concerned that they might eventually lose their insurance if the government did not create a new health care system, and 80 percent said they were concerned that the percentage of Americans without health care would continue to rise if Congress did not act. By 55 percent to 26 percent, respondents said Mr. Obama had better ideas about how to change health care than Republicans in Congress did,” according to the New York Times.

Citing the Campaign Media Analysis Group, the Times said Thursday that opponents have spent $9 million on television advertisements. The ads, financed by the Republican National Committee, are “aimed at constituents of wavering lawmakers.”

The tweets on reform are starting to trickle in to the White House Twitter account:

@Tenness: My family’s coverage doubled because of my preexisting condition. Unacceptable. Coverage is poor despite high cost! #hicp

@mattmaggard: these h/c protections allow workers more freedom 2 change jobs & start new businesses w/o fear of losing coverage #hicp

@weishin: As a doctor, I won’t have to worry about patients not getting screening tests because it’s not covered by insurance. #hicp

Ostermeier says Obama’s use of Twitter is not only another element of his “arsenal to get his message out but also a continuing enhancing of his image as a young, with-it officeholder.” These tactics can be used to mobilize younger people in support of his policies, including health-care reform, he said.
Still, there are risks to using Twitter and abbreviated forms of communication, Ostermeier said. “I see potential for danger of his reliance on this strategy. When you’re using short messages, this gives more freedom to critics to reshape the plan for their own purposes. Whereas if you’re relaying your strategies in full reports [instead of just a link to Obama’s eight bulleted points], there’s a lot less wiggle room for critics.”
Casey Selix, a news editor and staff writer for, can be reached at cselix[at]

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/31/2009 - 03:47 pm.

    I’d guess the reason public support for the plans on offer dropping somewhat is the obvious trend toward elimination or weakening of the public option. The word is no doubt spreading that the Massachusetts Plan on which the plans in Congress are modeled neither saves money nor achieves universality in spite of being a punitive corporate-friendly plan.

    We might be much better off if, this year, we merely enacted an INSURANCE REFORM ACT OF 2009 that would comprise all of the president’s eight principles plus, big plus: Make all insurance companies operate as nonprofit entities whose premium prices would be reviewed annually to see if they are gouging customers; make all companies abide by a set of benefits agreed on by the Congress and by public interest (rather than corporate interest) groups.

    This would remove much of the Bad while averting the addition of more Bad upon more Bad to our already Bad system.

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