President Obama sought to put the worst of the Obamacare rollout debacle behind him on Tuesday by launching a three-week public relations offensive to try to regain public confidence in the heavily retooled HealthCare.gov website and recapture some of his own lost credibility.
Two days after the administration announced that the troubled website was working effectively for the “vast majority” of Americans, the president declared at a White House pep rally that “this law is working and will work into the future.”
Still reeling from the worst political and governmental crisis of his administration – worse even than last summer’s uproar over Internal Revenue Service misdeeds and NSA domestic spying – Obama is hoping that the public’s memory of last October’s botched website launch and the subsequent cancelation of millions of people’s health insurance policies will gradually recede.
House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican critics insisted yesterday that the Obamacare website and the law itself are “fundamentally flawed” and can never be satisfactorily fixed.
The health care debacle has driven the president’s approval rating to a rock bottom 40.1 percent, according to RealClearPolitics, which averages eight top polls. And nearly half of Americans believe the president misled them about whether they could keep their current health insurance policies if they liked them, according to other polling.
Yet if the administration eventually repairs the many remaining technical problems and informational errors on the website, the public may eventually shift its focus to the hundreds of thousands and even millions of uninsured Americans who eventually will obtain affordable or subsidized health insurance through the program.
Or at least that appears to be the hope.
"People want the financial stability of health insurance,” Obama told a gathering of Obamacare enthusiasts. “And we’re going to keep on working to fix whatever problems that come up. In any startup, any launch of a project this big that has an impact on one-sixth of our economy, whatever comes up we’re just going to fix it.”
And his message for his GOP foes: “We’re not repealing it as long as I am president. We will make it work . . . I’m not walking away from it.”
A new Gallup poll released yesterday shows that most Americans who currently lack insurance say they are likely to get it for next year, as required by the Affordable Care Act. But a substantial minority – 28 percent -- say they are more likely to pay the government fine imposed for not having insurance.
This high profile year-end push comes after the White House last weekend released a progress report on the federal exchange’s website, HealthCare.gov, showing that the site was now working for people 90 percent of the time – a doubling of its efficiency since the disastrous launch on Oct. 1, and that it could accommodate as many as 50,000 people at any one time and 800,000 for an entire day.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the website successfully handled more than 1 million unique visitors on Monday, almost 200,000 more than the site’s maximum daily capacity.
The surge of visitors is good news for the administration, which needs more people to sign up through the exchanges to counter the disappointing enrollment numbers for October. Indeed, just 106,000 people selected plans the first month the federal and state-operated exchanges were launched, compared to the roughly 500,000 the White House was counting on.
Now that the website is working more smoothly and dependably, the White House is back to focusing on enrolling people in the exchanges before a Dec. 23 deadline to qualify for coverage beginning in early January. Previously, the administration discouraged some groups from aggressively seeking out enrollees because the website couldn’t handle surges in use.
“We know the demand is there and we know that the product on these marketplaces is good,” Obama said. “It provides choice and competition for people that allow them -- in some cases for the very first time – to have the security that health insurance can provide.” - The Fiscal Times’ Brianna Ehley contributed to this report
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