Obama: 'No Excuse' for Troubled HealthCare.gov Website
"There's no sugar-coating it. The website has been too slow, people have been getting stuck during the application process, and I think it's fair to say that nobody's more frustrated by that than I am," he said during the nearly 30-minute-long address at the White House Rose Garden.
It was the first time since the rocky Oct. 1 launch of the new federal and state health insurance exchanges that Obama has publicly responded to the glitches and delays that consumers have experienced while attempting to review their health-plan options and buy insurance coverage.
The exchanges are a key component of the Affordable Care Act, Obama's sweeping yet controversial effort to bring health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans.
HealthCare.gov, the federal portal serving people in 36 states, has experienced significant problems and delays since the beginning of the month despite early assurances by members of the administration that the exchanges would be up-and-running on Oct. 1.
Flanked by people who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act, Obama said the online problems are related to the operation of the federal website, not the health-reform law. The Affordable Care Act is eventually expected to help some 30 million uninsured Americans find affordable coverage.
"The point is the essence of the law -- the health insurance that's available to people -- is working just fine," he told a receptive audience, which broke out in applause numerous times during the speech.
Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced several changes to the HealthCare.gov website. A button on the homepage now offers the option to "Apply By Phone" alongside the "Apply Online" button. A "See Plans Now" button has been added to allow users to preview health-plan prices in their area (before tax credits) without having to go through the application process.
Obama said his administration is drawing upon "some of the best IT talent in the entire country" to get the website working while redoubling efforts to ensure that consumers can buy coverage the "old-fashioned way" -- over the phone or in person.
To date, more than a half-million people have filed applications through state and federal marketplaces, Obama said.
"The product, the health insurance, is good. The prices are good. It's a good deal. People don't just want it, they're showing up to buy it," he said.
Obama reiterated that the insurance available through the exchanges won't take effect until Jan. 1 and the country is "only three weeks into a six-month open-enrollment period."
And while admitting "there's no excuse" for the problems people have experienced trying to shop for coverage on the federal website, Obama also lashed out at the Republican Party, which he said "has made blocking the Affordable Care Act its signature policy idea."
"It's time for folks to stop rooting for its failure."
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has tools and information to help consumers understand the Affordable Care Act.