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

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President Obama takes questions from the media in the East Room of the White House on June 29, 2011.
National Journal
Sam Baker
Oct. 29, 2013, 4 p.m.

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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