DALLAS — President Barack Obama traveled to North Texas on Wednesday to thank those working to help Texans sign up for coverage through the nation’s new healthcare plan — and to call on Republican Gov. Rick Perry to do more to help the uninsured.He brought his defense of the healthcare 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 healthcare program, before heading to two high-dollar fundraisers for Democratic senators seeking re-election. He noted that efforts to carry out the healthcare 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 that 1.1 million Texans in the Dallas-Fort Worth region could be eligible for insurance through the new marketplace. That 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 website. People nationwide — such as volunteers at Temple Emanu-El — have increased their outreach efforts.At the same time, millions of people throughout the country have been notified that they are losing their current plans because of the new healthcare law.During his brief remarks Wednesday, the president used the event to pressure Perry — whose state has more than 6 million uninsured residents — to change his mind about expanding Medicaid. Perry maintains that expanding the program 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.”Mixed reactionSupporters 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 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 waving flags and carrying signs, including one that said “Impeach Obama,” said they wanted to show their opposition to the healthcare law.“We are so upset with this Obamacare,” said Maggie Wright, a staunch Republican from Burleson. “It’s a total takeover. It’s not healthcare.“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 chanted when the motorcade arrived at Temple Emanu-El.Inside, two hand-painted banners 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, Obama 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 healthcare program.Members 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 their work and the need 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.Many people have experienced so many technical problems trying to sign up for the program on the federal website that they have given up. Texas officials chose not to set up a state marketplace, leaving HealthCare.gov as the only place for residents to seek coverage.“President Obama’s disastrous healthcare reforms present a real threat to Texas’ strong economy,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said. Privacy concernsShortly before Obama arrived in Dallas, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is running for governor, called on state insurance officials to add new privacy and consumer protection requirements for “Obamacare navigators” who are working to sign people up for health coverage. Abbott and others say they have asked federal officials to make sure that privacy rules cover the 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.”Targeting TexasA national healthcare consultant suggested that Obama made a good call by 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.Avalere 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., firm projects for next year.“Given delays in launching the federal website, the administration may focus year-end outreach efforts on large states like Texas,” said Caroline Pearson, Avalere vice president. One of the biggest players in the government’s effort to enroll Texans is United Way of Tarrant County, which landed a $5.9 million federal grant to hire and deploy 75 navigators to help consumers use the online exchange. United Way and its partners around the state oversee 80 navigators, including six in Tarrant County and 11 in Dallas County.Since the exchange launched Oct. 1, local navigators have had 32 enrollment meetings that have drawn more than 12,000 people, said Tim McKinney, CEO of United Way of Tarrant County. Its partner agency in Dallas County, Community Council of Greater Dallas, has staged 49 meetings that drew more than 14,500, he said.McKinney said that for privacy reasons, the group does not collect personal information on attendees and can’t say how many have enrolled or bought insurance on the exchange. The well-documented woes of HealthCare.gov haven’t helped, he said.“While there are noticeable improvements and additions to the website regularly, the site is still very inefficient,” McKinney said. “Our navigators continue to work around issues, but it is not ideal and still affecting the job at hand.”Tax credit confusionConsumers are most confused about how the tax credit works, he said. A tax credit based on income can offset part — sometimes all — of the insurance premium and most often is paid directly to the insurer to reduce consumers’ immediate cost for a policy.Another issue for consumers, McKinney said, is buying a policy that has coverage they don’t feel they need, like maternity benefits for a single male. All policies sold on the exchange are required to offer 10 essential benefits, including maternity, hospitalization, mental health treatment and rehabilitation, that were often excluded from policies sold to individuals.Starting Oct. 1, all new policies sold, both on and off the exchange, must offer those essential benefits. Some existing policies may continue if they remain substantially unchanged and the insurer continues to offer them.The Texas Hospital Association, which has supported Obamacare as well as the expansion of Medicaid, called the president’s trip to Dallas a chance to cast a spotlight on what the uninsured cost the rest of society. Texas hospitals provide $5.5 billion in uncompensated care annually, the association said.Second visit this yearWednesday’s visit to North Texas was Obama’s second this year. He attended the opening ceremony for the George W. Bush presidential complex at Southern Methodist University in April.After speaking at the temple, Obama headed to two fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He had planned to attend these events at the homes of Dallas lawyers Russell Budd and Peter Kraus last month but delayed them because of the government shutdown.Ticket prices ranged from $15,000 to $32,400. Democratic officials did not say how much they hope to raise.Some had speculated that Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, a gubernatorial candidate, might meet with the president while he was here. But Davis was out of the area. (When Obama stopped in Texas during the last gubernatorial campaign, Democratic candidate Bill White was likewise unavailable to meet with him.)Davis headed to South Texas to campaign and meet with students and faculty at the University of Texas at Brownsville on Tuesday and to participate in an education round table with superintendents and education leaders Wednesday.“This strikes me as the more traditional use of Texas as a giant ATM for national Democrats and less an effort by President Obama to play an active role in helping to turn Texas blue,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “I think the president fully realizes that the more involved he is in the Texas campaign, the less successful Democratic candidates in the state are likely to be.” Staff writers Jim Fuquay, Caty Hirst and John Gravois contributed to this report.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley