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.