Declaring himself “not happy” with health care enrollment problems, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he takes “full responsibility” for resolving the computer problems that have plagued the administration and undermined a key step in the health care law. “We’re going to see this through,” he said.
Obama chose to address both the benefits and the difficulties of the health care law in Massachusetts, where the state’s health care coverage provided the model for the federal health insurance overhaul. The president cited early problems with the Massachusetts law as he tried to lower expectations for the initial enrollment in the federal system.
“All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true,” he said. “They’re the same arguments that you’re hearing now.”
The president pointed to benefits already available under the 3-year-old health care law, including ending discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions and permission to keep young people on their parents’ insurance plans until they turn 26.
But he conceded the troubled launch of the open enrollment period that began Oct. 1.
“There’s no excuse for it,” he said. “And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP. We are working overtime to improve it every day.”
Underscoring the president’s challenge, the healthcare.gov website was down, because of technical difficulties, during his remarks.
Obama also tried to clarify the most recent controversy surrounding the law — the wave of cancellation notices hitting small businesses and individuals who buy their own insurance. When he was trying to sell the health care overhaul bill to the public, Obama had vowed that anyone who liked their insurance would be able to keep it.
The cancellation notices apply to people whose plans changed after the law was implemented or don’t meet new coverage requirements. The president said those changes ensure that all Americans are able to get quality coverage.
“If you’re getting one of these letters, just shop around in the new market place,” he said. “That’s what it’s for.”
He said that because of government subsidies, most people who must get new policies will pay less than they are now.
Obama pointed to the bipartisan effort to get the program launched in Massachusetts, contrasting it to the Republican attempts to defund or delay the federal law. He spoke in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was joined by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to sign the state’s 2006 health care overhaul bill.
Republicans say the current computer dysfunction is more reason to repeal the law, and they’re pressing administration officials for an explanation.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the health care overhaul at a House committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday, apologized for the problem-riddled enrollment launch. She also had to address questions about a government memo raising new security concerns about healthcare.gov.
Using the Massachusetts law as an example, Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economics professor who advised both Romney and Obama on the development of their laws, said only 123 paying consumers signed up the first month of the Massachusetts law, with 36,000 coming on by the time penalties kicked in for failing to have insurance.