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NSA spying haunts Obama exchange event

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U.S. intelligence agencies’ efforts to collect information about Americans’ phone records and communications sent via U.S. Internet services today overshadowed President Obama’s efforts to promote the new California exchange system.

Obama traveled to San Jose Thursday to meet with Xi Jinping — the president of China; to attend a fundraiser; and to appear today at a press conference announcing the launch of the Covered California Asegurate Campaign.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) calls for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with state agencies to set up exchanges — Web-based health insurance supermarkets for individuals and small businesses — by Oct. 1.

The California Health Benefit Exchange — the agency setting up California’s Covered California Exchange — is teaming up with the California Endowment and three large Spanish media organizations to market Covered California to the state’s Latino residents.

The Asegurate Campaign is supposed to reach the 4.5 million uninsured Latinos in California, campaign organizers said.

Obama used the prepared portion of his remarks at the Asegurate press conference to talk about PPACA and the Covered California exchange.

“The main message I want for Californians and people all across the country — starting on October 1st, if you’re in the individual market, you can get a better deal,” Obama said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “If you’re a small business that’s providing health insurance to your employees, you can get a better deal through these exchanges. You’ve got to sign up:, or here in California at”

But when Obama turned the floor over to media questions, reporters asked mainly about reports of secret surveillance of phones and the Internet by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies.

“Can you also assure Americans that the government — your government — doesn’t have some massive secret database of all their personal online information and activities?” a reporter asked.

The Associated Press wire service, for example, ran a short preview article before the event about Obama administration efforts to encourage uninsured Latino people to use the new PPACA exchange system.

Actual coverage of the event focused on Obama’s comments about the surveillance programs.

“President Barack Obama vigorously defended sweeping secret surveillance into America’s phone records and foreigners’ Internet use, declaring ‘we have to make choices as a society,’” according to the lead to the story.

The reporters mentioned “health care” only to say that Obama had talked about the surveillance programs at a “health care event.”

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