President Obama on Monday said no one was more disappointed in the technical glitches which have plagued Obamacare’s health insurance websites, but said the law was working, as the administration launched a push to reassure the public in the midst of a trouble-filled rollout.
“Nobody's madder than me about the fact that the website isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed,” said Obama at a Rose Garden event with consumers and small business owners who had benefitted from the healthcare reform law.
But Obama also defended the law, saying it was helping millions of Americans gain health coverage and was a “good deal” for the public.
“The fact is, the product of the Affordable Care Act for people without health insurance is quality health insurance that's affordable. And that product is working. It's really good. And it turns out there's a massive demand for it,” said Obama.
The event came as the White House looked to push back at criticism over the rollout of the health insurance enrollment period. New websites which were supposed to enroll consumers in the plans were plagued by technical glitches and the administration has had difficulty identifying how many Americans have been able to actually register.
Critics of Obamacare have seized on the missteps, arguing that the administration should delay the individual mandate compelling people to purchase insurance or pay fines. Some say the problems with the websites highlights the unworkability of the law, Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
The administration, though, has defended their efforts, arguing that an unprecedented, high level of public interest led to the website crashes.
Obama also encouraged consumers to register for the health exchanges using phone lines.
“We've also added more staff to the call centers where you can apply for insurance over the phone. Those are already -- they've been working, but a lot of people have decided first to go to the website. But keep in mind, these call centers are already up and running. And you can get your questions answered by real people 24 hours a day in 150 different languages,” said Obama, repeating the number for the call centers twice.
Some GOP lawmakers have called for Obama to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius has declined calls to testify before Congress at a hearing this week on the tech glitches.
HHS said on Sunday that they were bringing in additional tech experts to quickly fix the website problems. But reports suggested that the problems could be deeper than initially expected and take weeks to fix.
The troublesome rollout has also worried Democratic lawmakers ahead of the 2014 midterms.
In an interview Sunday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said the problems have “to be fixed.” But she added that thanks to the law “tens of millions of more people will have access to affordable, quality health care.”
On Saturday, administration officials said the websites had seen 19 million unique visits and nearly half a million applications for insurance, touting the popularity of the websites.
Republicans though charge that the administration has not been forthcoming about the number of people who have actually enrolled in the insurance exchanges.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking for Obamacare enrollment figures.
“The administration insists the website isn’t a failure but instead just experiencing a few “glitches” and that it is both popular and functional. There’s only one way to prove it: releasing the enrollment numbers,” said the RNC in a statement. “Otherwise, taxpayers have no way to know what they’re getting for the site’s price tag of roughly half a billion dollars.”
Obama hit at the GOP, saying the party had “made blocking the Affordable Care Act its signature policy idea.”
“In fact, they were willing to shut down the government and potentially harm the global economy to try to get it repealed,” he continued. “And I'm sure that given the problems with the website so far, they're going to be looking to go after it even harder.”
“But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website,” said Obama. “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 anybody else. That's what this is about.”