Obama: “˜There’s No Sugarcoating’ the Health Care Insurance Exchange

But to him, the health care law is still sweet: “We did not wage long and contentious battle just around a website.”

National Journal
Brian Resnick, Alex Seitz Wald, Lucia Graves and Marina Koren
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Brian Resnick Alex Seitz-Wald Lucia Graves Marina Koren
Oct. 21, 2013, 8:16 a.m.

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It was a bit like an in­fomer­cial: The sat­is­fied cus­tom­ers gave testi­mo­ni­als. The man­u­fac­turer as­sured view­ers that the product will make life easi­er. And the product is great, and cleanup of any glitches will be a breeze.

Well, not that last part, but Pres­id­ent Obama did read off the num­ber Amer­ic­ans could call to sign up for health in­sur­ance. Flanked by hu­man props, the pres­id­ent spoke Monday out­side the White House, in the wake of the rough start to the Af­ford­able Care Act’s on­line health in­sur­ance ex­changes, fed­er­al and state-run. He ad­mit­ted troubles.

“There’s no sug­ar­coat­ing it,” he said. “The web­site has been too slow, people are get­ting stuck dur­ing the ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frus­trated by that than I am.” He later ad­ded, “Nobody is mad­der than me about the fact that the web­site is not work­ing as well as it should, which means it’s gonna get fixed.”

But the pres­id­ent spent most of his time run­ning through the bul­let points of what the ideal­ized ver­sion of the health care ex­changes will ac­com­plish. “Let me re­mind every­body that the Af­ford­able Care Act is not just a web­site,” the pres­id­ent said, then con­tin­ued with boil­er­plate ar­gu­ments for the law that he has re­peated since the law was first de­bated in Con­gress — that preex­ist­ing con­di­tions will not pre­vent people from buy­ing in­sur­ance, and so on.

Obama down­played the web­site’s sig­ni­fic­ance in the scope of the over­arch­ing law. “I just want to re­mind every­body, we did not wage long and con­ten­tious battle just around a web­site,” he said.

“The product is good,” the pres­id­ent said. “The health in­sur­ance that’s be­ing provided is good. It’s high qual­ity, and it’s af­ford­able.”

The fed­er­al health ex­change mar­ket­place, health­care.gov, has been vis­ited nearly 20 mil­lion times since it launched Oct. 1, Obama said. But still un­clear is the num­ber of people who have suc­cess­fully signed up on the ex­changes. Even the wo­man who in­tro­duced him, there to demon­strate that some people had suc­cess­fully signed up, called the ex­per­i­ence frus­trat­ing.

In the wake of the launch, many tech­no­lo­gic­al com­ment­at­ors cri­ti­cized the site as, by design, flawed — that there wer­en’t merely traffic is­sues. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is work­ing on an over­haul, and as The New York Times re­ports, in a tech­no­logy “surge,” as many as 5 mil­lion lines of code may have to be re­writ­ten.

One of the pres­id­ent’s biggest ap­plause line was dir­ec­ted at wo­men spe­cific­ally. “Every day, wo­men are fi­nally buy­ing cov­er­age that doesn’t charge them high­er premi­ums than men for the same care,” he said.

He was joined on stage by a dozen plus people who had already be­ne­fit­ted from the Af­ford­able Care Act, in­clud­ing Janice Baker, the first wo­man to en­roll in the Delaware ex­change. She and her hus­band own the Heav­enly Hound Hotel, a dog ken­nel in Selbyville. Be­fore en­rolling in the new mar­ket­place, she had been turned down for health in­sur­ance three times due to a minor preex­ist­ing con­di­tion.

A wo­man on­stage ap­peared to faint as the pres­id­ent was talk­ing; those next to her caught her fall. “This hap­pens when I talk too long,” Obama said.

Oth­er folks on stage in­cluded Jes­sica Ugalde, who was able to re­ceive treat­ment for a ser­i­ous ill­ness after leav­ing school by stay­ing on her mom’s in­sur­ance. And Ginger Gut­ting, a phar­macy su­per­visor for CVS in North­ern Vir­gin­ia, who says she has seen the im­pact of the ACA on her many cus­tom­ers and store phar­macists across the Wash­ing­ton metro area.

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