By STEVEN R. HURST
2013-12-04 09:22 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama has opened a campaign to bombard Americans daily about the benefits of his health care overhaul, pressing them to give the troubled web sign-up portal a fresh try after two months of emergency repairs while trying to blunt noisy Republican calls to delay or scrap the new health insurance system as an unworkable, big government blunder.
The president is fighting back after seeing his approval rating fall dramatically, trying anew to sell Americans on the massive health care changes that are designed to provide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and to end health insurance companies' practice of denying insurance to people who have a medical condition or to cancel coverage when they become ill.
While telling critics of the law -- some of whom he said were "rooting for it to fail" -- he would work with them to improve the measure, he declared on Tuesday he would not allow the law's repeal.
"If I've got to fight another three years to make this law work, that's what I'll do," said Obama, flanked by a group of Americans who reported being helped by the law. And he challenged Republican foes to present their own plan: "Tell us specifically what you'd do differently." Congressional opponents have not proposed any plan beyond rescinding the law.
Obama and his administration have a huge job as they try to overcome the faulty Oct. 1 roll-out of the government website that was to have provided a simple means of signing up for insurance. The site failed miserably and is only now working reasonably well -- not for everyone -- after having lost two months in the three-month sign-up period. It ends Dec. 23 for those who want to have coverage in place by Jan. 1. And there remain big problems, experts say, in getting correct information on those who have signed up for coverage to the companies who will issue the insurance policy.
Obama signed the new law in early 2010, but most of its features were not to have gone into effect until Oct. 1. It carries a mandate that all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a fine. As an enticement, the law provides income tax credits to low-income Americans. Obama had repeatedly sought to sell the new law by saying that Americans who had health insurance would be able to keep that coverage. It turned out, however, that millions began receiving cancellation notices because their current policies did not meet standards set by the new laws. That only compounded growing anger as the website was unable to handle the volume of Americans trying to use it.
Obama's drop in the polls after those problems arose put his presidential legacy in danger even though he has sought to improve the situation in the United States, the only major world economy where citizens do not have health insurance as a right guaranteed by the government.
Heavy opposition to the law gained steam after Republicans regained the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 elections. Led by a new crop of small-government, low-tax tea party activists in the House, the chamber has voted more than 40 times to rescind the law. Those efforts have never even reached consideration in the Senate where Democrats hold the majority. But Democrat solidarity has shown cracks since the bungled Oct. 1 roll-out, especially among Democratic senators facing re-election this year in Republican-dominated states.
Republicans oppose the health care law as an intrusion into the personal lives of Americans and contend that government is incapable of running a program that is essential to the lives of U.S. citizens. The party has not, however, offered any plan of its own that would meet the needs of the 40 million Americans who are either priced out of the insurance market or unable to buy coverage because of health problems.
While the sign-up website is still wobbly, the administration reported Monday that about 1 million people used the portal during the first work day after the Dec. 1 deadline, the date the administration had set for unsnarling the deep problems that accompanied the start-up.
As part of the health care offensive, the administration released a 50-state report Tuesday morning, saying that nearly 1.5 million people were found eligible for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income Americans, during October. As website problems depressed sign-ups for subsidized private coverage, Medicaid saw a nearly 16 percent increase in states that have agreed to expand it, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That increase was registered even though the majority of U.S. states with Republican governors have refused to participate in the expanded program.
Obama had set a Nov. 30 deadline for ensuring that the website was working properly for the vast majority of users. While administration officials declared over the weekend that they had met their goal, counselors helping people use the online health exchange gave the updated site mixed reviews, with some zipping through the application process while others are facing the same old sputters and even crashes.
The website troubles resulted in significantly lower enrollment than what administration officials had hoped for and it's questionable whether the program will reach the 7 million sign-ups predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. While Dec. 23 is the deadline for signing on to a plan for those wanting to start coverage Jan. 1, the law gives Americans leeway until March 31 to enroll without facing a fine.
Also Tuesday, a Treasury Department watchdog warned that government subsidies to help Americans buy insurance under the health care overhaul may be vulnerable to fraud, the latest indication that troubles are far from over for Obama's signature legislation.