Policy: Technology

White House faces tests of key Obamacare goals in 2014

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Obamacare,Democratic Party,Health Care,Healthcare.gov,Technology,Health Care Exchanges

The White House is declaring victory in fixing healthcare.gov, but there are looming issues beyond the website that the administration must address to avoid a fatal blow to President Obama’s signature initiative.

Obama is turning his attention to convincing Americans — and insurance companies — that his health reforms are workable as the administration seeks to turn the corner on the problem-plagued insurance exchange website.

The public has until the end of March to sign up for health coverage or pay a fine, but the administration’s goal of enrolling 7 million Americans by that time appears in doubt.

Strategists say there are four intertwined benchmarks that will determine whether the law is an asset or an albatross for Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.

Keep costs down: Curbing health costs was always the most fundamental challenge for Obamacare, evident in its official name: the Affordable Care Act.

Obama has returned to the bully pulpit, launching a series of daily sales pitches for the law, and arguing that consumers will save money.

Republicans, though, have pounced on examples of “rate shock,” looking to cement charges that Obamacare requires Americans to buy more expensive insurance and could force them to give up their preferred doctor.

The White House thus far has dismissed claims of cost increases, saying that consumers’ substandard plans are being replaced by more comprehensive health care and superior insurance coverage.

A series of recent polls, though, shows that a majority of Americans believe Obamacare will cause premiums to increase, leaving the administration with an uphill fight to change perceptions hardened during the botched rollout.

Get young people to sign up: To keep the cost curve down, Obama needs to win over more younger Americans than any other demographic.

If younger, healthier people don’t enroll, leaving an older and sicker insurance pool, premiums will skyrocket.

The administration originally projected that 2.7 million young people would sign up for Obamacare next year — a benchmark that White House officials privately acknowledge is overly optimistic.

Obama directly appealed to millennials at a White House youth summit, saying, “Most young people without insurance can now get covered for under 100 bucks a month.

“I need your help,” the president told the crowd of twenty-somethings. “That’s why you're here, because you know I need your help.”

But some analysts said those pleas are increasingly falling on deaf ears.

“It was always going to be tough — it’s going to be tougher now,” said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute who focuses on health care. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression, particularly with young people. And the insurance companies are terrified.”

Get insurers to adopt the cancellation fix: The president’s broken pledge that all Americans could keep their current health plans damaged his credibility and weakened his claim that the government could implement a sweeping progressive agenda.

When Obama announced that insurance companies could allow Americans to keep canceled plans through 2014, insurers accused the White House of undermining their efforts to implement his policy prescription and called the administrative fix unworkable.

Since then, administration officials have quietly been making concessions to insurance companies — a longtime political piñata of Obama’s — to keep insurers from jacking up premiums or leaving the marketplace altogether.

The administration is also proposing an increase in so-called “risk payments” next year to companies that join Obamacare exchanges, a concession made after the uproar over canceled health plans.

But healthcare.gov still faces problems delivering enrollment information to insurers, a setback that must be corrected before a Dec. 23 deadline for people to obtain coverage beginning Jan. 1.

Keep Democratic lawmakers from jumping ship: The White House has managed to quiet Democratic calls to delay the individual mandate and pass legislation addressing canceled insurance policies.

But red-state Democrats know that Obamacare will serve as the centerpiece of GOP campaigns in the fall — and have shown little eagerness to embrace a program unpopular with their constituents.

Democratic defections would only bolster Republican critics and weaken White House assertions that conservatives are fighting a purely political battle with little regard for the well being of the uninsured.

"If there’s another flare-up with mass cancellations or widespread failure to get health care, it’s a huge problem for 2014,” Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist, said. “The White House has got to calm the waters and keep pushing forward.”

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