With his signature healthcare reforms being buffeted by embarrassing failures of the main website that is meant to support it, President Barack Obama took to the White House lawn today urging Americans to have patience and promising everything is being done to work out what he called technological “kinks”.
“There’s no sugarcoating 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 is more frustrated by that than I am, I want the cash registers to work, I want the check-out registers to work,” Mr Obama said. “Nobody is madder than me that the website isn't working as it should - which means that it’s going to get fixed.”
Surrounded by citizens who have successfully bought coverage already, Mr Obama made the 25-minute pitch fully aware of the risks to the overhaul, known as Obamacare, which has become the target of concerted attacks by Republicans who would like to see it if not repealed then at least delayed or defunded.
Standing under a bright autumn sky in the Rose Garden, he strove to draw a distinction between the website, HealthCare.gov, which in theory can be repaired, and the policy itself which is meant to make affordable healthcare coverage available to millions of Americans who live without any health insurance at all.
“We did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a Web site. That’s not what this was about,” Mr Obama insisted, in a clear reference to his Republican foes. “We waged this battle so that millions of Americans in the richest nation on earth will finally have the opportunity to get the same quality healthcare as everyone else.”
The first of several hearings called by Republicans will open on Capitol Hill on Thursday when administration officials will be pressed to explain why the roll-out of HealthCare.gov has been afflicted by so many problems. While 14 states have built their own websites for consumers looking for healthcare coverage under the new law, HealthCare.gov is the only online place for people to look for coverage in the 36 other states.
Because under the law most Americans will be obliged to buy health insurance by next March, the theory is that by bringing millions of new people into the system the costs of premiums will drop. That has yet to be tested and if to few people actually sign up, the White House could be forced to consider delaying the March deadline.
After resisting calls to appear before the hearings on Capitol Hill, it appeared tonight as if the Healthcare and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sibelius, will testify. It remains to be seen if her willingness will quell demands from some Republicans that she resign. Officials say that about 20 million people have visited the website so far and have tried to suggest that the high volume has led to some of the problems which have typically made it difficult for people to log on or create an account to begin the process of finding coverage.
“It’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure,” Mr Obama said of the Republican assault on the policy. But he added: “I am willing to work with any folks on any idea to make this work better.”