President Barack Obama spoke at the White House today, beginning a three-week long campaign aimed at promoting his health care law. The 20-minute speech comes after weeks of gloomy publicity surrounding the rollout of healthcare.gov.
Now that "the vast majority of consumers" can access the website, Obama is hoping that fighting back against his critics may be the boost the public needs to bolster trust in his message.
The president's absence during the release of Sunday's progress report regarding improvements to healthcare.gov was less than encouraging to some observers.
Dan Mendelson, chief executive officer of Avalere Health LLC, a Washington-based consultant to health-care companies, told Businessweek on Sunday, "They're not expressing the kind of confidence that they would need to have by going out and saying, 'OK, bring it on. You're not going to get enrollment until they flip that switch and aggressively say that the government is open for business. That's the Catch-22."
It's true the government has been sending mixed messages. While celebrating a more functional website, it is simultaneously promoting a work-around through insurance providers, so that consumers can avoid the website altogether, according to The Wall Street Journal.
So will this public appearance flip the switch and cause millions more Americans to enroll in new plans by the Dec. 23 deadline to receive healthcare by Jan. 1.
Obama appears hopeful that it will.
"The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future," Obama said. While his speech might be seen by some as an attempt to distract people's attention from the website's glitches by waving the banner of a few early success stories--cancer patients, seniors and a doctor whose patients are long overdue for preventive care-- Obama didn't tiptoe around the website's failings. "We've learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly it's going to work all the time." He nevertheless defended the site, noting that problems were to be expected with any project of this scale.
Obama focused on the benefits Americans had already garnered. He spoke about the 7 million seniors who saved an average of $1,200 on prescription medicine and the 8.5 million families who received refunds of roughly $100 when their insurance provider spent more on overhead than patients. And perhaps most importantly, he praised the law for providing half-a-million enrollees with health care coverage for the first time ever.
While his comments about the website were conciliatory and even self-deprecating, Obama was less accommodating towards the law's critics. "We may never satisfy the law's critics. I think that it's fair to say some of them are rooting for this law to fail." But Obama stressed that those challenging the law had offered no alternatives apart from "repeal, repeal, repeal."
On this point Obama was firm. "We're not going to walk away from it. If I've got to fight another three years to make sure this law works than that's what I'll do."