Anna Salerno holds a sign and waits with other protestors for President Barack Obama to arrive at the Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
DALLAS — President Barack Obama traveled to North Texas Wednesday to thank those working to help Texans sign up for coverage through the nation’s new health care plan — and to call on Republican Gov. Rick Perry to do more to help those without insurance.
He brought his defense of the controversial health care law to Texas, the largest Republican state where officials oppose the program as well as any expansion of Medicaid.
“There’s no state that actually needs this more than Texas,” Obama told a crowd of about 150 gathered at Temple Emanu-El, where volunteers work to enroll others in the health care program, before heading to two high-dollar fundraisers geared to help Democratic senators seeking re-election.
But he noted that efforts to carry out the health care law can be “especially challenging here in the Lone Star State,” prompting a woman at the event to shout, “We’re up to the task!”
At one point in his remarks, Obama referred to Perry’s stance as “bullheadedness.”
The White House noted that Dallas is one of the top 10 cities for uninsured Americans and 1.1 million Texans in the Dallas-Fort Worth region could be eligible for insurance through the new health insurance marketplace.
This issue has been a firestorm in Texas and nationwide as potential customers have reported problems trying to sign up for coverage on the HealthCare.gov web site, which prompted people nationwide — such as volunteers at Temple Emanu-El — to increase their own outreach efforts.
At the same time, millions of people throughout the country have been notified that they are losing their current insurance plans because of the nation’s new health care law.
During his brief remarks Wednesday, the president used the event to pressure Perry — governor of a state that has more than 6 million uninsured residents — to change his mind about expanding Medicaid.
Perry maintains that expanding Medicaid isn’t the right move and turned the attention back on the president.
“President Obama deceived the American people by promising that anyone who liked their health care plan could keep it, but millions of Americans are now discovering that simply isn’t true,” Perry said in a statement. “Now, he’s coming to Texas in a desperate attempt to salvage his ill-conceived and unpopular program from a Titanic fate by preaching expansion of the same Medicaid system he himself admits is broken.
“In Texas, where Medicaid already consumes a quarter of the state budget, we simply need the flexibility to implement fundamental, state-specific reforms to our Medicaid program, instead of a one-size-fits-all Washington mandate, before it bankrupts our state,” he said. “Mr. President, Texans aren’t the reason Obamacare is crumbling; Obamacare is the reason Obamacare is crumbling.”
Supporters and opponents alike lined the street outside Temple Emanu-El before the president arrived.
“It’s important for those of us who are supportive of him to be heard,” said Camille Cain, a Dallas eighth-grade history teacher who took the day off work to see the presidential motorcade. “It’s so easy in a state like Texas to be drowned out. This is my personal way of saying I support him.”
Protesters carrying signs and waving flags, including one that boasted a sign that said “Impeach Obama,” said they wanted to show their opposition to the country’s health care plan.
“We are so upset with this Obamacare,” said Maggie Wright, a staunch Republican from Burleson. “It’s a total takeover. It’s not health care.
“I have two grandsons and I want them to live in the America I know,” she said, explaining why she was near the temple carrying a sign that read “Keep Texas Red.” “We are losing our freedoms.”
The crowds booed, cheered, applauded and began chants when the presidential motorcade arrived at Temple Emanu-El.
Inside, two hand-painted banners were hung that stated in big blue letters, “Affordable Health Care” and a crowd of supporters awaited the president’s arrival.
Once the motorcade delivered him to the event, the president spoke briefly to those working with Dallas Area Interfaith, which the White House has said is one of the most active Texas groups promoting the health care program.
Members of the group have been working to sign Texans up for the program and even created booklets called “Cut Your Costs for Health Insurance, Learn How the New Tax Credit Could Provide Financial Assistance for You.”
Obama told the crowd about the importance of both their work and for states such as Texas to expand Medicaid.
“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “Across this state you’ve got a million people ... who don’t have health insurance that could get health insurance right away…
“This looks like a pretty motivated group,” he said. “I’m going to be right there with you the entire way” until everyone in Texas has affordable healthcare.
Shortly before Obama ever arrived in Dallas, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is running for governor next year, called on state insurance officials to put in place new privacy and consumer protection requirements for “Obamacare navigators” who are working to sign others up for health coverage.
Abbott and others have said they are concerned about federal privacy rules and have asked federal officials to make sure privacy rules include these navigators. On Wednesday, Abbott, who said he hasn’t received a response from federal officials, asked for new state rules to protect against fraud and identity theft.
“Obamacare navigators have access to Texans’ most sensitive and personal information,” Abbott said. “Inexplicably, the federal government has failed to enact safeguards that are necessary to properly protect Texans’ privacy, so I am deeply concerned about the threat of identity theft.
“Given the Obama administration’s apparent indifference to the seriousness of these problems, I am thankful that Texas officials are stepping up and moving toward meaningful protections for Texans.”
A national health care consultant suggested that Obama made a good call visiting Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured residents at 24.6 percent. By most estimates there are about 6 million uninsured Texans.
Avalerev Health estimated that “Texas alone could bring in more than 800,000 exchange enrollees in 2014, more than 9 percent of the estimated total national enrollment” of nearly 9 million that the Washington, D.C., company projects for next year.
“Given delays in launching the federal web site, the administration may focus year-end outreach efforts on large states like Texas,” said Caroline Pearson, Avalere vice president.
(Staff writers Jim Fuquay, Caty Hirst and John Gravois contributed to this report.)
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