WASHINGTON (CNN) — An unscripted moment Monday summed up President Barack Obama’s effort to downplay problems with the government website plagued by problems in signing people up for health insurance under his signature health care reforms.
As Obama argued that the law was good and the website’s problems would be fixed, one of the people chosen to stand behind him in the White House Rose Garden started to teeter.
Others supported the woman who appeared on the verge of passing out, and Obama quickly turned to help.
“I got you. You’re OK,” he said, reaching out to her. He then joked, “This happens when I talk too long.”
The President attempted to discuss the myriad problems of HealthCare.gov — the website for the 15% of Americans lacking health coverage to sign up for insurance — in the same assured and upbeat manner.
Saying there was no “sugar-coating” the difficulty logging in, long waits, repeated failures and other problems, Obama added that tech industry experts were being brought in to help workers going 24/7 to solve resolve the website woes.
“Nobody’s madder than me about the website not working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” Obama said.
At the same time, he argued that the health insurance available through the 2010 Affordable Care Act provided Americans previously unable to get coverage with the security of knowing that an accident or illness wouldn’t bankrupt them.
Though some people are having trouble applying, those who have had the chance to enroll through HealthCare.gov are “thrilled with the result,” and people can apply in ways other than the website, including though a call center and in person, Obama said.
He noted that new marketplaces under the law opened October 1, the same day House Republicans forced a government shutdown by trying to link continued funding to their demands to dismantle or defund the health care reforms.
“It’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure, because hardworking middle class families are rooting for its success,” Obama said of the health care law.
The political showdown over government spending and raising the federal borrowing limit that ended last week distracted public attention from the problems of the new health care system.
Obama administration officials have highlighted the fact that nearly 500,000 people have filled out applications for Obamacare, though the number who purchased coverage remains unknown.
Initial difficulties have started to ease for logging on to the website for the new exchanges, some of which are run by states and others by the federal government. Now problems are occurring further along the process, with insurance industry sources having said they are getting some applications with missing information.
Republicans kept up their attacks on the health care reforms on the Sunday talk shows.
The office of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell tweeted Monday that when a visit to the Obamacare website made a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles seem pleasant, “it’s time for the President to consider delaying this rushed effort.”
“God only knows how much money they’ve spent, and it’s a failure,” McConnell said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “You know, the government simply isn’t going to be able to get this job done correctly.”
Obama rejected the GOP attack line, saying the benefits of the health care reforms — particularly for people previously unable to get health coverage or afford high-cost policies — were too important to halt progress because of temporary problems such as website difficulties.
The application portion of the website was brought down this weekend for overnight maintenance, as it has been on previous weekends and some weeknights.
An administration official confirmed to CNN that additional government and private technology experts will be brought on to help solve the problems but did not provide any details.
“To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering,” the Health and Human Services department said in a blog post Sunday. “Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.”
Two officials said that staffing at call centers has been increased by about 50% to help people phoning in, and officials are emphasizing that now, as an alternative, one can enroll over the phone. About 1.2 million calls have been processed from those seeking information.
“The website is unacceptable, and we are improving it,” one senior administration official told CNN. “But the underlying insurance product is good, and across the country, people are getting access to affordable care on January 1.”
The administration is still not releasing the numbers on how many people have taken the next step of enrolling: choosing a specific health care plan. The administration has said it will do that only on a monthly basis, so the first tally of enrollment numbers will come in November.
The Congressional Budget Office has said it expects 7 million people to enroll by April 1.
Although the administration tally of applications did not break down how many of the applications came through state-run exchanges, a CNN survey of officials with those exchanges found that at least 257,000 people had signed up for new insurance plans as of Friday afternoon.
Not all of them had made a payment, and not every state responded to the CNN request.
While March 31 is the deadline for people to get health insurance, officials warn that failure to sign up by February 15 could be a problem because of the time needed for the coverage to take effect.
A ConsumerReports.org article last week offered tips for people trying to sign up, but had the following advice for those overwhelmed by the difficulties:
“If all this is too much for you to absorb, follow our previous advice: Stay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made.”