As technical problems with a new federal health-insurance website begin to look less like fixable glitches and more like a colossal failure threatening the future of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama on Monday urged those trying to sign up for new coverage to be patient while federal officials work to address the issues.
“We are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. Information-technology experts from the government and outside firms are “working overtime, 24/7” to fix “kinks” in the operation of healthcare.gov, through which Americans in more than 30 states are supposed to be able to sign up for new coverage and subsidies, Obama added. “Even with all the problems at healthcare.gov, the website is still working for a lot of people, just not as quick or efficient or consistent as we want.”
The Administration says some 500,000 people have completed applications for new coverage under Obamacare, many through the federal website. But as the President pointed out, no one will actually pay for new coverage until December, and the earliest coverage can begin is Jan. 1. Applying for coverage, in other words, is not the same as having it, and the Department of Health and Human Services has said it will not release actual enrollment figures until next month. Insurance companies have reported that applications received so far have included erroneous or duplicate data that must be rectified before the enrollments can be completed.
Meanwhile, Obama urged uninsured Americans stymied by website problems to apply for coverage through a federal hotline or in person at designated community centers and hospitals. “Nobody is madder than me about the website not working as well as it should,” he said. Sounding like a pitchman, Obama read the hotline number aloud and said of the website, “I want the cash registers to work. I want the checkout lines to be smooth. I want people to be able to get this great product.”
The President opened and closed his remarks on Monday by mentioning the recent government shutdown, which polling suggests Americans largely blame on House Republicans who sought to delay or defund the health care law. “I’m sure that given the problems with the website so far, they’re going to be looking to go after it even harder,” Obama said. “But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website. That’s not what this was about.”
It’s true, the Affordable Care Act is more than a website. The law cuts billions of dollars from Medicare and includes a large expansion of Medicaid and reforms meant to slow the growth of health care spending. But the law’s major selling point was that it would allow uninsured Americans to easily find affordable, quality health insurance. That promise depended on a website. And as long as the process of finding and buying that coverage is difficult, or even impossible in some cases, the promise will remain unfulfilled.