First lady asks for Latinos’ help on health care

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Michelle Obama urged Latino activists on Tuesday to help sign people up for her husband’s health care overhaul, especially the millions of younger, healthier people the system will need to offset the cost of caring for older, sicker consumers.

The first lady said that, starting July 31, consumers can create an account at http://www.healthcare.gov , or http://www.cuidadodesalud.gov , its Spanish-language equivalent, so they can get ready to sign up for health insurance in the fall, starting on Oct. 1.

“Simply passing the Affordable Care Act was not the goal,” Mrs. Obama said at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. “The goal is to get folks to sign up for the insurance so they have the care they need to stay healthy.”

She emphasized “the need to reach out to our young people” since their participation is key to the law’s success.

The Obama administration is looking for about 7 million people to sign up for health insurance through marketplaces that are supposed to become available online starting Oct. 1. More than 2.6 million younger enrollees are needed to keep costs down for the overall pool, the White House has said.

Nearly one-third of these young people live in California, Texas and Florida.

“So we need to send them to those websites which have all the information they need about health reform,” Mrs. Obama said.

In the remarks, the first lady tied the push to get the uninsured to sign up for health care to her campaign against childhood obesity, which she said is seriously affecting the health of Latino children. She called the epidemic a policy, public health, family and community issue, and urged families to make the right diet and exercise choices for children who don’t know enough to make the smart decisions on their own.

“We know better. And that is one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children. This is a gift,” she said.

The first lady also mentioned immigration policy, saying President Barack Obama is working and fighting “every step of the way” on what is a priority issue for the president and for the group. The Senate has passed an immigration bill, but prospects in the House are less clear.

“But do not give up, because I promise you that my husband won’t give up until a good bill gets on his desk,” she said.

Benjamin Hernandez, a Houston resident who works for the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, said he was thrilled that the first lady encouraged Latinos to sign up for health insurance.

“We have a lot of challenges in terms of obesity and chronic disease, so the more we get people on these programs, the more we get them on the health insurance exchanges, the better it is for the entire population,” he said.

Mrs. Obama’s remarks are part of a determined effort by the administration to inform the public about the health care law and its benefits as Oct. 1 nears. On Monday, Obama dropped in on a private White House meeting with celebrities including singer Jennifer Hudson and actors Amy Poehler and Kal Penn. The White House said the artists expressed interest in helping spread the word about the health insurance marketplaces opening Oct. 1.

After the conference visit, Mrs. Obama toured Sterling Farms, a suburban New Orleans grocery store opened by actor Wendell Pierce. It’s intended as a way to provide better food access and jobs for residents.

Pierce, a New Orleans native, has been leading an effort to open grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Mrs. Obama shook hands with shoppers and told several children there to be sure to eat their vegetables.

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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