He said no one is more frustrated by the problems than he is.
But the president also emphasized how good the health insurance product is and how desperate Americans are to get it and he exhorted the nation not to be discouraged or deterred from receiving it.
“Let me remind everybody that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website,” he said in a speech in the White House Rose Garden, where he attempted to put the well-publicized problems into perspective. “It’s much more…The essence of the law, the health insurance that’s available to people, is working just fine. In some cases, actually, it’s exceeding expectations. The prices are lower than we expected. The choice is greater than we expected.
“But the 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,” he continued. “There’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody’s more frustrated by that than I am. Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work, I want the checkout lines to be smooth, so I want people to be able to get this great product. And there’s no excuse for the problems. These problems are getting fixed.”
Obama pointed out that Americans who don’t want to use the website, healthcare.gov, can use the call center (1-800-318-2596) or go to one of the walk-in centers to receive assistance—both of which have a considerable increase in staffing, he said.
Considering the outrage and fear that the Affordable Care Act has created in Republicans, even leading them to shut down the government to stop it, the president realizes he can ill afford major glitches in the rollout of the program. Clearly with a program of this size, glitches were inevitable—indeed, the nation saw similar glitches in the rollout of such important programs as Social Security and Medicare.
“One study shows that through new options created by the Affordable Care Act, nearly 6 in 10 uninsured Americans will find that they can get covered for less than a hundred dollars a month,” Obama said. “Think about that. Through the marketplaces, you can get health insurance for what may be the equivalent of your cellphone bill or your cable bill. And that’s a good deal.”
The president said the healthcare.gov website has been visited nearly 20 million times—and that doesn’t include the millions who have visited the websites of states that opted to offer their own exchanges. Obama said some of the nation’s largest technology companies are so eager for Obamacare to work that they have sent in expert teams to assist in the running of the site.
“I recognize that the Republican Party has made blocking the Affordable Care Act its signature policy idea,” Obama said. “Sometimes it seems to be the one thing that unifies the party these days. In fact, they were willing to shut down the government and potentially harm the global economy to try to get it repealed. And I’m sure that given the problems with the website so far, they’re going to be looking to go after it even harder. And let’s admit it, with the website not working as well as it needs to work, that makes a lot of supporters nervous because they know how it’s been subject to so much attack, the Affordable Care Act generally.”
“But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website. That’s not what this was about,” he added. “We waged this battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable quality health care as anybody else. That’s what this is about. And the Affordable Care Act has done that.”
Beyond the extreme hyperbole being tossed out by the Obamacare opponents, the gist of the program is stunningly simple: In most states, it features the same healthcare providers that were already operating, offering roughly the same plans, at roughly the same rates as they were offering on the individual market before the passage of the ACA. The only difference is that Obamacare forces them to offer the same rates to everybody, regardless of gender and existence of “previous conditions.”
In essence, Obamacare is really just a health referee, making sure Americans aren’t abused by the healthcare system. It’s not as though Obama is in the basement of the White House, creating his own special brand of Obamacare doctors or even his own healthcare companies.
The new system uses the same providers that the old system used. As an enticement to the young, the poor and the uninsured, Obamacare offers subsidies for low-income Americans to reduce the cost. It is also expanding the number of people who qualify for Medicaid, though may states, particularly in the South, are resisting the expansion—and consequently will leave many of the working poor in the poorest region of the country without the opportunity to get healthcare that the rest of the country now has.
“By enrolling in what we’re calling these marketplaces, you become part of a big group plan, as if you were working for a big employer,” the president explained. “A statewide group plan that spreads risk between sick people and healthy people, between young and old, and then bargains on your behalf for the best deal on health care. What we’ve done is essentially created competition where there wasn’t competition before.”
So in many ways, all the screaming and hollering is much ado about nothing. As long as the system operates well enough to get everyone signed up over the next two to five months and answers all of their questions, then it will have worked. And once the sign-up process is over, for most people, their healthcare experience will move to their interactions with their healthcare provider and their doctor—just as it has been since HMOs were created a generation ago.
In this context, the statements by such alarmists as Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson, who said Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to this country since slavery, seem especially ridiculous.