Nineteen people stood behind President Obama on stage in the Executive Office Building Tuesday as the president kicked off a new campaign to promote Obamacare. One of those people, a young Florida woman named Monica Weeks, introduced Obama after telling the story of being struck with Crohn's Disease at age 19 and receiving expensive treatments for several years that were covered by her parents' health care plan — because Obamacare allowed her to remain on that plan until age 26. Now, Weeks said, she has coverage through a job. "The Affordable Care Act gives young adults who are just starting their careers more time to find a good job that offers reliable health insurance," Weeks said.
There were 18 other people standing with Weeks and the president on stage. Obama began his remarks by saying, "Thanks to Monica, thanks to everybody standing behind me." A little later, criticizing Republicans who have pronounced Obamacare a failure, the president said, "I would advise them to check with the people who are here today and the people that they represent all across the country whose lives have been changed for the better by the Affordable Care Act."
But Obama never said who those people were, and, unlike other events, the White House did not release their names or biographies. A spokesman later said the White House would not provide the information. A pool report called the group "19 individuals whom the White House said benefited from health care reform." Beyond that, their connection to Obamacare remains unknown.
Obama's speech mentioned three specific people he said have been helped by various provisions of Obamacare: a California woman undergoing treatment for leukemia and lymphoma who no longer worries about exceeding the lifetime cap on insurance benefits; a North Carolina doctor who said more of his patients will take advantage of preventive care under Obamacare; and an Ohio woman whose 23-year-old daughter has cancer requiring highly expensive drug treatments that are covered by her parents' health plan because of Obamacare. "That's what this law means to millions of Americans," Obama said.
If any of those people were with Obama on stage, the president didn't say. It's also worth noting that of the four examples cited during the event, two were young people whose medical treatment was covered by the up-til-age-26 provision of Obamacare, one was a woman who benefited from the abolition of lifetime caps, and one was a doctor who advocates more preventive care. None had purchased affordable coverage through healthcare.gov.
The last time Obama gathered everyday Americans to stand behind him as he delivered remarks on Obamacare turned into something of an embarrassment for the White House. It was Oct. 21, during the worst of the Obamacare website's dysfunction, and the White House wanted to showcase people who had successfully navigated the system. The problem was, the brief biographies of those on stage -- biographies released by the White House -- showed that they had had the briefest and barest of interactions with the health care plan. One was said to have "used healthcare.gov to process his application and is waiting for the options for potential plans." Another was said to be "planning to enroll after he explores his coverage options on the D.C. exchange." And yet another was said to be planning "to comparison-shop for the best plan that meets her budget and needs." They weren't exactly success stories.
Now, six weeks later, the White House presumably can find people who are farther along in the process of buying coverage through healthcare.gov. Perhaps some were standing on stage with the president today. But the White House isn't saying.