Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, President Obama made a renewed case for Obamacare — and how his administration will address the stumbling roll-out of the online health insurance marketplace.
The president at times seemed like a cable infomercial pitchman, hawking the enrollment phone number and encouraging people to sign up. But his biggest effort was political, differentiating between the failures of the website and the broader components of Obamacare.
"Let me remind everybody," he said, "that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It is much more." He pointed to the people behind him, who'd been able to stay on their parents' insurance, or were able to get coverage even with a pre-existing condition. "You may not know it," Obama said, "but you are already benefiting from these provisions in the law."
Obama noted the demand for affordable coverage, and said that the glitchy website had been visited more than 20 million times — not nearly equivalent to the 15 percent of Americans that lack coverage, but still a lot of people. He said that a lot of those uninsured have already gotten coverage. Under the Medicaid expansion — which we've covered before — which has provided coverage to 56,000 Americans, for one, and under the online system. "The product is good. The health insurance that's being provided is good. ... And we know that demand is there."
But that website! "There's no sugar-coating it," Obama said. "Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work and the checkout lines to be smooth." The problems with the website, he said, "are getting fixed." The president pointed to one significant update to the website that came on Monday: a big button on the site that offers the opportunity to apply on the phone. Those call centers, he pointed out, have added more staff.
RT @AnnieLowrey: For the record, just called 1-800-318-2596, got a busy signal.— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 21, 2013
Obama did make a valid point that's often overlooked: Getting insurance has never been exactly easy. "Part of the challenge here is a lot of people may not remember what it is like to buying insurance." With the new system, "there are no absurd forms. There is no medical history questionnaire that goes on for pages and pages." (Assuming it eventually works as planned; estimates in The New York Times suggest that repairing the flawed site could take weeks.)
And, naturally, he criticized his opponents for "rooting for its failure." Given the website flaws, he predicted, "they are going to be looking to go after it even harder." In response, the president again pointed to the demand — and some success stories.
Obama was introduced by Janice Baker, who identified herself as the "first person in Delaware to enroll in the new marketplace." "I'm here today," Baker said, "to encourage other people like me ... and to tell them to have patience in with such a new system."
Earlier today, we outlined the metrics demonstrating how the website — and the overall sign-up process — has failed to meet expectations. The government claimed last week that nearly 500,000 people had signed up on the website, a figure that only includes those who completed an initial application.
At the end of his remarks, Obama highlighted a letter from a man named John in Pennsylvania. John wrote that the website "really stank" for the first week, but he eventually enrolled. Government representatives have so far suggested that they can't give an answer to the question of how many people have actually enrolled using the website. On Monday, we got something of an answer: at least two.