U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday did some damage control regarding technical problems that have plagued the HealthCare.gov website since its Oct. 1 launch. Obama encouraged Americans to bypass the site until it's fixed and use other avenues to secure coverage.
Insurance exchanges are a key part of the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), as it serves as a marketplace where people can shop around for health-care coverage from competing providers. The open enrollment period will last for six months and insurance kicks in on Jan. 1. However, a troublesome launch has been preventing people nationwide from enrolling in the exchanges online and the Obama administration has been struggling to resolve the issues.
While the problems continue, the president said the government will help potential consumers sign up because the product is in demand and providers want to address those needs. He encouraged applicants to apply for health insurance through old-fashion channels -- call centers at 1-800-318-2596 or apply for coverage in person with paper applications.
“The fact is the product of the Affordable Care Act ... is quality health insurance that is affordable,” Obama said during a speech at the White House Rose Garden. “And that product is working. It’s really good.”
The president was joined by people who have either already benefited from the 2010 Affordable Care Act or are helping others learn about how to get coverage. He admitted that the website hasn’t “worked as smoothly as it’s supposed to work” but also outlined the benefit that those with pre-existing conditions can get through coverage. The president added that because of choice and competition, prices are decreasing.
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“There is no sugarcoating it,” Obama said of the enrollment website's problem. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am. ... There is no excuse for these problems. And these problems are getting fixed.”
The health-care law is the president’s signature first-term legislative achievement. Its rocky start was largely overshadowed for nearly three weeks by contentious budget battles that caused a 16-day government shutdown -- the first in 17 years -- and the threat of a U.S default. However, differences over Obamacare were what led to stalled negotiations that brought lawmakers to the edge of another fiscal cliff (and a temporary government shutdown) with cooler heads prevailing and eventually a short-term fiscal success witnessed only at the 11th hour.
The Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, on Sunday released a statement in which it stated that since the roll-out, the website has been visited by millions of Americans and that nearly half a million applications for coverage have been submitted.
Among the problems highlighted by the HHS were trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site, error messages, slow page-loads or forms that failed to respond in time.
“The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people,” the statement read. “We are committed to doing better.”
Since the roll-out, bugs have been fixed to offer a better experience, the HHS release stated, adding that the huge wave of visitors pressured the system and caused problems in signing up. Moreover, there have been software fixes to “improve” the online experience.
“We’re proud of these quick improvements, but we know there’s still more work to be done,” the statement read. “We will continue to conduct regular maintenance nearly every night.”
Despite the improvements, opponents of Obamacare have dismissed the law as a failure.
“President Obama is sure to promise Americans that with more time, taxpayer money and patience the law will perform better,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement before the president’s speech. Cruz recently staged a filibuster against Obamacare in an attempt to attach language to defund the law or delay it in order to pass a bill to keep the government running.
“Its failings, however, are not limited to its website or its rollout,” Cruz said. “We already know Obamacare can’t live up to its promises. President Obama promised Americans that their premiums would go down, taxes would stay low, millions of jobs would be created, and if they liked their healthcare plans, they could keep them. Instead, premiums are rising, taxes are higher, the economy is sputtering, and people are losing their plans.”
But consumers like Janice Baker, the first person in the state of Delaware to enroll through the new marketplace, would beg to differ with Cruz. Baker was present at the White House on Monday, where she shared her story and introduced the president.
“It took me a number of frustrating attempts before I could apply and select my plan,” Baker said, adding that she’s seen savings of $150 and encouraged others to “have patience with such a new system."