With the release of figures showing just 106,000 people had signed up for a health care plan through Obamacare in the first month of eligibility, Republicans are gleefully announcing that the entire policy is a failure. Meanwhile, anxious Democrats are pressuring the White House to allow Americans to keep health care plans that were canceled because they did not meet the standard of the new law.
The manic response to the numbers demonstrates just how high the political stakes are for the president’s signature legislative achievement in the rabidly partisan environment in Washington, where any mistake is pounced on by the other side and hailed as the end of the world.
The administration had hoped that a half million of the 42 million Americans without health insurance would sign up through the exchanges in the first month of enrollment, but problems with the healthcare.gov website severely hampered enrollment.
To keep matters in perspective, the open enrollment period for the first year of Obamacare doesn’t end for another five months, but Republicans are not about to pass up an opportunity to portray the Affordable Care Act as a massive failure.
House Speaker John Boehner said the numbers in the report, which fall far short of the administration’s goal for health insurance exchange enrollments, underscores the “urgent need for President Obama to allow people to keep the plans they have and like.”
“Above all, this report is a symbol of the failure of the president’s health care law,” Boehner said in a statement. “It is a rolling calamity that must be scrapped.”
According to the administration, a total of 975,407 applied for coverage and received an eligibility determination, but have not yet selected a plan. While 106,185 have selected a plan, another 396,261 have been determined as eligible for Medicaid or a similar government program for children. Of the 106,185 who signed up, only 27,000 people signed up via the federally run exchanges while about 79,000 signed up through the state exchanges—with more than half of those from California and New York.
The House has scheduled a vote for tomorrow on a bill that would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage through 2014 without penalties. Crafted by Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill is opposed by the White House, which argues that it would severely undermine the Affordable Care Act by allowing insurance companies to continue to sell health coverage that does not meet the higher standard of the health care law.
But Democrats are worried about the politics of the bungled law and are warning the White House that they may support the measure if the administration does not provide a strong alternative argument. There was tension at a closed-door meeting of House Democrats and White House officials yesterday, with lawmakers accusing the president of putting Democrats in a tough political position by wrongly promising consumers that they could keep their existing health care plans.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have received cancellation notices from their insurers because their health care coverage does not meet the minimum standards dictated by the new law—something Washington lawmakers knew was going to happen but about which they are now acting as if they had never been told repeatedly over the past three years.
“I’m frustrated in how it rolled out, and I let them know in no uncertain terms,” said Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania. “The point I was making in caucus to the administration is don’t give us this techno-babble that you’re going to do some administrative fix down the road. There’s a bill being put on the floor on Friday.”
Democratic lawmakers told White House officials they have until Friday to come up with a satisfactory alternative, or House Democrats may be forced to support Upton’s bill, which already has two Democratic co-sponsors: Representatives John Barrow of Georgia and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, who represent more conservative districts.
“I think the Upton bill is terrible, but we need something else to vote for in order to keep our word to the American people,” Doyle said. “We told people in those plans that they were grandfathered in, and if they wanted to stay in them, they could, and we need to honor that.”