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Health Care

Obamacare Supporters Say Patience Pays When It Comes to Health Care Reform

(Richard A. Bloom)

photo of Sam Baker
October 29, 2013

President Obama is looking for one thing as he travels to Boston on Wednesday for a health care speech: patience.

He is scheduled to talk about Massachusetts' experience passing a bipartisan health care bill, under then-Gov. Mitt Romney, that was nearly identical to the Affordable Care Act. And he's scheduled to do it on the same day lawmakers will be grilling his top health care official over the technical problems undermining enrollment.

The implicit message is clear: This doesn't have to be so partisan. When states lean in and try to make reform work, it can work well.

 

Previewing Obama's speech on Tuesday, White House officials and Obamacare supporters also said that Massachusetts' experience makes the case for patience with the bumpy beginning of the federal enrollment process.

"The success of health care reform needs to be measured in months and years, not days and weeks," said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped design both health care laws. "We didn't freak out about daily or weekly enrollments. We looked at it monthly."

The Health and Human Services Department now says HealthCare.gov, the main portal for Obamacare enrollment, will be totally functional by the end of November. Experts say that's enough time to avoid long-term damage to the law, but it still leaves the door open for another full month of negative headlines and constant attacks from Republicans.

Just 0.3 percent of the people who ultimately enrolled in Massachusetts' system did so in the first month, White House adviser David Simas said on a conference call with reporters.

Gruber said, "Many healthy people waited until that last minute to sign up."

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