President Obama on Monday pitched his healthcare overhaul as a good “product” that is simply having problems at the check-out line. He urged Americans to call an 800 number or shop in person while his team works out kinks in the federal insurance marketplace's online sign-up.
“Nobody’s madder than me that the website’s not working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” Obama said before television cameras in the Rose Garden. There's no point in "sugarcoating" the problems, he said.
But the president offered little information about exactly what is wrong with the online enrollment system and or how he plans to get things running smoothly. He said only that the “best IT help in the country” is riding in to lend a hand.
“We are confident we will get all the problems fixed,” Obama said.
The rollout of the insurance program has been plagued by technical problems since it launched Oct. 1. The Healthcare.gov website has crashed at times and consumers have struggled to create accounts, the first step in selecting a health plan.
Although Obama administration officials initially claimed the problems were the result of unexpectedly high volume of visitors to Healthcare.gov, they more recently have conceded that there are deeper technical problems.
One design flaw is a requirement that consumers create an online account before they begin comparing insurance plans, creating a bottleneck that may have been responsible for some of the long wait times.
Republicans continued to complain about the situation Monday. Some have called for the dismissal of Kathleen Sebelius, his Health and Human Services secretary, who oversaw the planning for the rollout.
“The Obama administration had over three years to build Healthcare.gov, and they produced a non-functioning website,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “Do they really expect Americans to believe that a ‘tech surge’ can rebuild it in a few days or weeks?”
But Obama did not capitulate to Republican demands for high-level dismissals. He defended the new marketplaces despite the trouble many people have had accessing them.
“The website is still working for a lot of people,” Obama said. “They’re very happy with the deal that’s available to them.”
Obama gave his Rose Garden pitch the folksy touch of an infomercial, telling people how to join the marketplace “the old fashioned way,” by phone or in person. “Real people" are standing by, he said, "24 hours a day," ready to help in multiple languages.
He suggested that the sheer volume of customers dissatisfied with their lack of access is a tribute to his “product.”
Flanked by several consumers, Obama even supplied testimonial evidence. One satisfied customer introduced Obama at the event, and he read letters from others during the event.
In one unplanned moment, though, a woman standing behind Obama grew visibly woozy and almost fell while he was talking. A staffer appeared to help lead the woman away.
Obama smiled, wrapped up the pitch quickly and left the podium.
“Good catch,” he said to the person standing next to the woozy customer as he headed back to the Oval Office.
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