Obama administration mobilizes forces to tackle healthcare restructuring

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Obama team uses emails, text messaging to engage Americans in healthcare reform. Image Source: KenHopkins.org  

President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration is drawing on the network of campaign supporters to lay the groundwork for an attempt to restructure the U.S. healthcare system, waging an outreach campaign by marrying lobbying and social-networking technologies.

Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Thursday held a conference call with 1,000 invited supporters culled from 10,000 who had expressed interest in health issues, promising it “would be the first of many opportunities for Americans to weigh in,” reported the Washington Post.

The healthcare mobilization taking shape will include online videos, blogs and email alerts as well as traditional public forums. It is the first attempt by the Obama team to harness its support network to shape public policy. Although the president-elect is a long way from crafting actual legislation, according to the Post, Obama promised during the campaign to control healthcare costs and expanding coverage a top priority in his first term.

The Obama team, which recruited about 13 million online supporters during the presidential campaign and announced its vice presidential selection via text message, is now moving to apply those tools to the earliest stages of governing.

However, it is not clear whether Obama can legally use his list of campaign supporters in the White House; the database would probably become government property, reported the Post.   

According to Obama team spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, the team has initiated this “high-tech grass-roots experiment” on the issue of healthcare because "every American is feeling the pressure of high health costs and lack of quality care, and we feel it's important to engage them in the process of reform,” reported the Post.

For example, when many of his supporters were angry upon learning he voted in favor of a surveillance law, staffers were assigned to monitor and respond to comments posted on the campaign's website. After a sort of “cyber-catharsis of complaints,” the controversy eventually died down, commented Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, a nonpartisan website focused on the intersection of politics and technology.

"It will be a lot easier to get the American public to adopt any new healthcare system if they were a part of the process of crafting it," he said.