Update 2:45 p.m. EST: President Obama defended his health care reform law Sunday, downplaying remarks from White House adviser Jonathan Gruber, who said the law passed, in part, because of the "stupidity" of the American public. Obama said Gruber never "worked on our staff," adding he "completely disagree[s] with" Gruber's assessment. The president's remarks came during a press conference at the close of the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, Reuters reported.
HealthCare.gov was up and running well as the second annual round of open enrollment in health insurance exchanges began this weekend. The Obama administration’s much-maligned website left many consumers out in the cold last year, but the incessant bugs and crashes led to a complete overhaul this year, when the approach to promoting the website has been quite different.
The Affordable Care Act-enabled site reopened early Saturday, and an International Business Times reporter was able to fill out an application and browse through insurance estimates in multiple states without issue.
President Barack Obama devoted his weekly address to health insurance Saturday, pointing to changes made in the site. “We’ve spent the last year improving and upgrading HealthCare.gov, to make it faster and easier to use,” he said.
Among other changes made for the open-enrollment period this year, the coverage application was cut from 76 pages to 16, and the site was modified so people who come to either renew or change plans will find 90 percent of their applications already filled in for them. Additionally, twice as many people will be able to use the site at the same time -- 250,000 people now can use the site at the same time, which is double last fall’s capacity -- and a team of experts has been tasked with providing assistance should any problems emerge, as Politico reported.
“We’ve tested and retested our systems, putting ourselves through some of the industry’s most stringent protocols to ensure we’re taking the steps necessary to safeguard consumers’ personal information,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a blog post.
The website has had much less fanfare this year, and Obama administration officials have even hesitated to guarantee it will work.
The limited talk about the Affordable Care Act -- only 44,000 mentions on Twitter at press time Saturday for “Obamacare” and less than 50 for “HealthCare.gov” -- appears to fall in line with a general malaise about the law. While the number of uninsured Americans has fallen by about 10 million since last year, there as still 41 million people without coverage, and administration officials have said they are expecting a net gain of only 2 million people through HealthCare.gov during this open-enrollment period.
Despite seemingly endless appeals by Obama, who noted Saturday that “over the past year more than 10 million Americans have gained the financial security and peace of mind that comes with health insurance,” the biggest roadblock preventing more Americans from getting health care seems to be that most of the uninsured simply don’t know how the Affordable Care Act or health insurance works.
This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey that found four in 10 uninsured Americans didn’t understand basic health-insurance terms such as “premium,” deductible” or “provider network.”
“Even more of the uninsured could not correctly answer questions that required calculating the amount an insured person would have to pay for a hospital stay (61 percent) or an out-of-network lab test (91 percent) based on the plan’s cost-sharing requirements,” the foundation reported.
Most Americans weren’t even aware the law has taken effect. When the Kaiser foundation conducted a survey last January -- after the insurance expansion had already begun -- only 18 percent said they thought “all” or “most” provisions of the Affordable Care Act had been put into place, the Washington Post reported.
“I think that is an unfortunate continuation of a trend that’s been going on for quite a while now. Our data shows that people really aren’t familiar with what’s in the ACA,” Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told International Business Times during a conference call about the beginning of open enrollment Saturday.
As recently as Thursday, about nine out of 10 uninsured people were unaware of when the next open-enrollment period would start. Two-thirds of uninsured Americans said they knew “only a little” or “nothing at all” about the marketplaces where people can shop for insurance and a little more than one-half did not know that financial assistance was available to low- and middle-income people.
While premiums in the marketplace are expected to go down in most states, many people will end up paying more because they don’t check the exchanges.
Despite a looming penalty that would levied in cases when they don’t get insurance, most Americans -- 56 percent -- have said the health-care law has had no direct impact on their families. That number is up only 3 percentage points since January.