Anyone who expected to see an angry President Barack Obama yesterday was no doubt surprised to hear him go into yet another long, drawn out defense of his healthcare law and brag about the number of hits the federal ObamaCare exchange website received when it launched at the beginning of the month.
“[L]et me remind everybody that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website,” said President Obama before a backdrop of people who have supposedly benefitted from the law (just three of them had actually signed up for coverage on the exchange). “It’s much more,” he added before listing off some of the provisions, including the “slacker mandate” and Medicaid expansion.
President Obama mostly repeated familiar lines, absurdly claiming that the law “essentially created competition where there wasn’t competition before” and that insurance prices “have come down,” before subsidies are even taken into account. Sorry, but that’s not true for most Americans.
After spending time defending the law, President Obama actually had the audacity to brag about the traffic on the federal health insurance exchange website, Healthcare.gov, which has been plagued with glitches and errors due to a lack of server capacity, faulty design and software, and a strategic decision to put income verification at the start of the enrollment process.
“So the fact is, the product of the Affordable Care Act for people without health insurance is quality health insurance that’s affordable. And that product is working. It’s really good,” said President Obama. “And it turns out there’s a massive demand for it. So far, the national website, healthcare.gov, has been visited nearly 20 million times.”
After spending more time defending the law and telling some stories of people who have been able to sign-up for coverage, President Obama finally addressed the problems with the federal exchange website.
“[T]he problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody,” President Obama told supporters. “There’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow.”
These comments came around 12 minutes after the speech began, after a long and vigorous defense of the law, which, again, featured many of the same talking points that we’re heard from this President over the last few years.
“I want everybody to remember that we’re only three weeks into a six-month enrollment period when you can buy these new plans,” said President Obama. “Keep in mind the insurance doesn’t start until January 1st. That’s the earliest that the insurance can kick in. No one who decides to purchase a plan has to pay their first premium until December 15th.”
The problem with this statement is that nothing beats in the initial rollout. That’s when the most interested parties will enroll, especially with all of the media coverage and controversy surrounding this law. They had one shot to get it right, and they’ve blown it.
He also said that “there’s no excuse for the problems” and assured supporters that they “are getting fixed.” He also said that his administration “had some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team,” calling it a “tech surge,” though they won’t say who exactly has signed-on to help.
“This speech would work if Obamacare really was just a bit glitchy. But it’s not,” tweeted Ezra Klein, a leftist policy wonk and prominent ObamaCare supporter. “Signing up, for most people, is basically impossible.”
President Obama also spent time encouraging people who want to buy coverage to call an 800-number, which prompted some conservatives on Twitter to snark that speech was an ObamaCare infomercial. What’s more, the phone number wasn’t working and directed people back to the glitchy health insurance exchange website.
The frontpage of Healthcare.gov has reflected the push to get consumers to call in rather than try to enroll online. This is what the site looked like when it launched:
This is what it looks like as of yesterday:
The speech basically glossed over the problems, including five million lines of faulty code, which some IT professionals estimate will take weeks to fix. President Obama may believe that the law is “more than a website,” but keep in mind that the website was supposed to be the primary mechanism for people to enroll into the exchanges, which are a central part of the law.
It’s also quite hilarious that the speech was given on a day when Facebook experienced glitches. Users found that it was impossible to “like” a friend’s status. But after three hours, the problem was resolved. Contrast that to the three weeks the Obama Administration has had to fix the problems on the federal exchange website. It may be an “apples and oranges” comparison, but still.
President Obama’s speech missed the mark in a big, big way. His administration’s credibility has taken a hit, and stories about people who have been able to take advantage of the law and a handful of lines about a “tech surge,” while gleaning over the real problems, aren’t going to change that.