Bloomberg News

Obama to Tout Health Law’s Benefits to Rebuild Support

December 03, 2013

Health Care Insurance

An insurance agent helps a woman purchase an insurance policy under the Affordable Care Act at a store in Hialeah, Florida. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Barack Obama plans to highlight the 2010 health-care law’s benefits at a White House event today that kicks off a three-week campaign to regain support for a program marred by a troubled implementation.

Obama will emphasize the importance of using the newly repaired federal online insurance exchange to enroll Americans in health plans, the White House said in a statement. The site has been plagued by technical flaws since it went live on Oct. 1, keeping tens of thousands of Americans from signing up for medical coverage.

The president is seeking to counter Republican lawmakers’ criticism of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act over the healthcare.gov website stumbles and the cancellation notices sent to hundreds of thousands of current policy holders as a result of the law.

Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said yesterday his panel will be monitoring the law’s rollout for potential fraud and scams.

“The still-struggling website speaks to the administration’s incompetence in implementing this law and raises serious concerns moving forward,” Upton said in a statement.

Catch-Up Campaign

The botched start meant the government achieved only a fraction of the 800,000-enrollee target it set through November. The administration’s prediction is 7 million sign-ups for the first year. Open enrollment ends March 31.

The president’s campaign to build public confidence in the law is set to run through Dec. 23, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified discussing internal planning.

The White House also plans a campaign to encourage people to sign up for insurance before Dec. 23, the last day that people who enroll are guaranteed to have medical insurance by Jan. 1.

The initiative will feature daily events, each designed to highlight a different benefit of the law, including preventive care and reduced growth in health-care costs, the official said.

The federal website was hobbled by software errors and overwhelmed by higher-than-anticipated consumer demand after it opened. About 8.6 million people visited the site in the first week, running into long waits that kept many from registering to check out insurance options.

Website Repairs

Obama said on Dec. 1 that the website’s flaws had largely been repaired. Yesterday the site had more than 800,000 visitors, said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She didn’t say how many selected policies.

The website appeared to be handling its stated new capacity of 50,000 simultaneous visitors, primarily through the use of a queuing system that controls overflow. At the same time, an error rate of 0.9 percent per page, a decrease from 6 percent in October, still means users may encounter difficulties in clicking through multiple pages to enroll in a health plan.

The administration still is working to eliminate errors in the data sent to insurers, the so-called 834 files, that are needed to enroll individuals in plans.

‘Significant Problems’

“Health plans continue to experience significant problems with the ‘834’ enrollment files,” Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s Washington-based lobby group, said in an e-mail.

The errors have affected about one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed government and industry officials.

Republicans, who were unanimous in their opposition to the law when it passed in 2010 through a Congress then controlled by Democrats, have sought to turn the troubled rollout into a political advantage. In addition to hearings, they have released documents showing administration officials knew of flaws in the main insurance exchange website before it opened.

The Democratic National Committee said today it would counter those attacks with a debut of a new website to outline benefits to consumers, a sustained campaign “into next year’s midterm elections,” Michael Czin, a DNC spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “For example, Democrats will argue that Republicans would strip people with preexisting conditions of their health insurance because the ACA guarantees them access to coverage,” the statement said.

Politically Sensitive

The DNC also plans to communicate that message on a state-by-state basis, underscoring the political sensitivity of the health-care law.

The federal website serves 36 states, including Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, while 14 states, including New York and California run their own.

The state sites for the most part haven’t encountered the technical problems of healthcare.gov.

Obama has apologized to the thousands of Americans who lost their medical insurance plans as a result of his health-care law, despite his repeated pledge that people who like their coverage would be able to keep it when the law took effect. On Nov. 14, he promised a one-year reprieve to people facing the loss of coverage, a move that prompted objections from insurers saying that doing so would boost costs.

The administration is weighing whether to increase payments to insurers to offset the added cost of letting people keep medical coverage that otherwise would have been canceled next year, according to a notice posted on the Federal Register yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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