President Barack Obama is going much farther than he has in the past in conceding the problems with the health care law’s rollout. He’s hoping today’s promised improvements will ease the public apprehension that’s surged to the forefront of Washington’s attention now that the shutdown and default drama has been set aside.
“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Obama said about the new website’s limitations, which he admitted was leaving the impression that the new policies were also subpar. “Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work properly,” he said in the Rose Garden at his first staged event since the scope of the problems became apparent.
The president’s declarations will do nothing to change the perception of all congressional Republicans, who remain unified in describing the law as flawed beyond saving even as they remain deeply split on when to take another shot at repeal.
Many of the Hill’s politically vulnerable Democrats, who have remained largely unified in defending the law and dismissing its website failures as predictable and fixable, are now inclined to be even more critical than the president.
“What has happened is unacceptable in terms of the glitches,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “They were overwhelmed to begin with. There is much that needs to be done to correct the situation.”
One other important signal of Democratic restiveness came as Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., declared on Fox News that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would ultimately have to testify about the Obamacare computer problems. She and other administration officials have so far declined requests to appear at congressional hearings to discuss the reasons such a crash-prone HealthCare.gov was opened and how quickly the system will be fixed. That reticence has only fueled GOP fury, with some lawmakers now calling for Sebelius to resign.
With the budget wars now free of a countdown clock until early next year, implementation of Obamacare looks to be one of Washington’s preoccupations for the rest of the fall. Many Republicans lament that, in hindsight, they’ve realized they would have been better off waiting to pursue their repeal-at-all-costs strategy until after the rollout’s embarassing shortcomings had been revealed and been given the sort of publicity that didn’t happen during the government shutdown and debt limit crises.
Obama said about 20 million people have visited HealthCare.gov since it opened Oct. 1, but officials concede that only about 3 percent of those people (about 500,000) have applied for insurance policies through the federal or state-run exchanges. (People have to file applications before they may enroll, in part to find out if they can get subsidized coverage)
Obama promised ramping up staffing at call centers where people will now more easily be able to apply for insurance by phone. HHS also bringing in technology experts from inside and outside of government to help diagnose the software problems.