President Barack Obama pushed back against the political critics of the White House website aimed at helping uninsured Americans sign up for health insurance as required by law by Jan. 1 during a Rose Garden speech Monday.
He claimed he couldn't "sugarcoat" the website's issues, which include an inconsistent ability to allow consumers to create accounts, trouble with awarding available tax credits and general slowness. The issues have so far prevented an untold number of people from enrolling in the newly available federal health insurance marketplace, a key portion of the Affordable Care Act. But Obama also tried to mitigate the political points Republicans are trying to score from the mismanagement during his 25-minute address.
"Nobody's madder than me that the website isn't working as it should , which means it's going to get fixed," he said.
Passed by Democrats in 2010, the ACA aims to provide access to affordable health insurance to all Americans. It includes a provision that all Americans have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014 or pay a penalty. Republicans have been pushing for the law's repeal and short of that a delay of the mandate. While the Obama administration granted a delay to companies who will eventually be required to offer health insurance to their employees, it refuses to budge on the individual front.
After reviewing the litany of benefits already available under the Affordable Care Act – including young people staying on their parents' policies until age 26 and rebates for seniors for prescription drugs – Obama urged people to try using alternative ways for signing up for insurance, including by phone and in person.
"The product is good. It's high quality and it's available. The demand is there," he said.
Obama said teams of tech employers were working 24/7 to resolve the persistent issues that have led to frustrated potential consumers, adding that unlike post-Thanksgiving sales, there's not going to be a run on the product.
"They aren't going to run out, they don't sell out," Obama said. "Everybody who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance, period. Consumers want to buy this product and the insurance companies want to sell it."
He then pivoted to the politics of Obamacare and the opposition from Republicans which ledto the recent 16-day federal government shutdown.
"They were willing to shut down the government and potentially harm the global economy to try to get it repealed and I'm sure that given the problem with the website so far they are going to be looking to go at it even harder," Obama said.
But Obama reminded Democrats and the public that the sweeping health reform law, which represents his signature domestic policy, consists of more than a buggy web page.
"We did not wage a long and contentious battle just around a website. That's not what this is about," he said. "We waged this battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on Earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable, quality health care as everybody else."
Since its passage, the main peril for Obama and Democrats has been that the perception of how the law is affecting Americans mattered more than the reality. The website issues highlight the potential that now Democrats are facing the possibility that they have gone all in on a policy that isn't working.