President Barack Obama on Tuesday said a problem-plagued website “clouded” the real benefits of Obamacare and the expanding insurance coverage for more Americans.
“We need people now that we're getting the technology fixed,” Obama said. “We need you to go back and take a look at what's going on because it can make a difference in your lives and lives of your families.”
Obama is now in campaign mode seeking to revive support for the Affordable Care Act that was never particularly popular since it was passed in 2010, but has become even more so after the disastrous rollout over the last two months – chiefly an inoperable website, healthcare.gov, and millions of people losing their existing insurance plans that don't fulfill new requirements under the law.
“Bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future,” Obama said. “People want the financial stability of health insurance and we're going to keep on working to fix whatever problems come up in any startup or launch of a project this big that has an impact on one sixth of our economy. We know the ultimate goal, ultimate aim, is to make sure that people have basic security and the foundation for the good health they need.”
The president's remarks were the kickoff of what will be a three-week campaign to attempt to build support for the Obamacare, with numerous events set to happen through Dec. 23. Congressional Democrats -- at least those with safe seats going into 2014 -- and liberal groups such as Organizing for Action, are part of the effort to refocus the debate on providing greater health insurance coverage. The campaign will include speeches, press events, digital media and other venues, according to the White House.
“Some have already convinced themselves despite all of the evidence,” Obama said.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), whose committee has had several oversight hearings on the law's problems, criticized the public relations effort.
“Millions of Americans have had their existing plans cancelled, millions more are worried about their health care coverage and costs, and the exchanges are still not functioning properly or even fully built,” Upton said in a statement. “The president’s plan? Another speech and another website. Words alone will not fix this. The law is still not ready for prime time and millions are being left in the lurch.”
He was further defiant toward criticism.
“We're not repealing it as long as I'm president,” Obama said.
Obama was more careful this time not to over promise, acknowledging there might be more difficulties.
“More problems may pop up and when they do, we'll fix those too,” Obama said. “But what we also know is that just after the first month, despite all of the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and medicaid beginning on Jan. 1, some for the very first time.”
The administration announced that on Nov. 30, most of the website glitches were fixed, and Monday saw the surge in users, as White House press secretary Jay Carney said more than 1 million users came onto healthcare.gov. Administration officials say the site can handle 50,000 users at once.
Jeff Zients, the incoming director of the White House National Economic Council, was brought into oversee the website changes. He said his team fixed many of the problems.
However, various news reports said that users still had some of the same problems that the “tech surge” was supposed to fix, such as slow loading and numerous error messages. Further, the final stage for payments has reportedly had problems leaving people uncertain if they are enrolled.
As many as one-third of consumers who signed up on healthcare.gov may not receive the plans they intended because of an error.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Monday it fixed a software bug that prevented Social Security numbers from enrollee information, which the agency said was responsible for 80 percent of the problems.
In a sign of yet another potential problem for the law, the Treasury Department Inspector General made public a report on Tuesday that stated the Internal Revenue Service must strengthen fraud protections to ensure that the tax credits are accurately awarded. The tax credits would be provided to people with incomes of up to 400 percent of the poverty level, or $23,000 to $94,000.