Obama asks for patience in glitchy health care sign up

Posted by Lesley Clark on October 5, 2013 

Budget Battle Boehner

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, arrives at the Capitol in Washington

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — AP

President Obama defended the roll out of his signature health care law this week, urging patience despite the computer glitches that left prospective enrollees unable to sign up.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama said that although he doesn't yet have the numbers of how many signed up, "What we know is that the interest way exceeded expectations and that's the good news."

He said the numbers of those trying to get on "shows that people really need and want affordable health care. And the product is a really good one. It turns out that choice and competition work."

He said the federal website "got overwhelmed by the volume" and said "folks are working around the clock and have been systematically reducing the wait times, but we are confident that over the course of the six months...that we are going to probably exceed what anybody expected in terms of the amount of interest that people have."

He said people who logged off due to frustration, "definitely shouldn't give up." He noted the insurance plans don't start until January and enrollees don't have to pay until December.

"Typically, what happens is when people are shopping for insurance, they visit a site or make phone calls or look at brochures five, six, seven times before they make a final decision," Obama told the AP. "So they'll have plenty of time."

He said every day the wait times are reduced -- though he didn't say that the site was expected to close for much of the weekend for maintenance.

"Each day, more and more people are signing up, and the product will save you money," he said, estimating some will save hundreds, in some cases, thousands.

He noted that the program in Massachusetts -- which served as the model for the federal program -- the sign-up rate "started fairly slowly, partly because people didn't want to pay three or four months ahead of when they would get insurance.

"But the interest, their ability to window shop, identify what's going to work for them, what suits their pocketbook, what kinds of tax credits they can get -- that's already happening," he said.

Republicans have pointed to the problems with the health care plan as evidence that Obama should negotiate with them to re-open the federal government. But Obama said he won't negotiate unless the government is re-opened.

"We are happy to negotiate on anything," Obama said. "We are happy to talk about the health care law, we're happy to talk about the budget, we're happy to talk about deficit reduction, we're happy to talk about investments."

But, he added, "What we can't do is keep engaging in this sort of brinkmanship where a small faction of the Republican Party ends up forcing them into brinkmanship to see if they can somehow get more from negotiations by threatening to shut down the government or threatening America not paying its bills."

And he reiterated that he won't negotiate over lifting the federal debt ceiling, which the government is poised to bump up against on Oct. 17.  He also suggested he won't use various options that Democrats have suggested.

"There is one way to make sure that America pays its bills, and that's for Congress to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, to pay bills that they have already accrued," he said.

"We can't establish a pattern where one faction of one party that controls one chamber in one branch of government can basically hold its breath and say, unless we get 100 percent of our way, then we're going to let the entire economy collapse, the entire economy shut down," he said.

He wouldn't say whether he thinks the tea party -- which has championed tying repeal of the health care bill to the government shutdown -- has been good or bad for the U.S., saying "I don't want to paint anybody with a broad brush."

"The tea party is just the latest expression of probably some very real fears and anxieties on the part of certain Americans," Obama said. "And I get that. So there's nothing objectionable to having strong principled positions on issues, even if I completely disagree with many of their positions.

"My concern has less to do with the tea party, per se, or the particular positions that they take on issues, but rather it's this idea that if they don't get 100 percent of their way, they'll shut down the government or they'll threaten economic chaos," he said. "That has to stop."

Obama pushed back against a suggestion that his own splashy debut as a first term senator had set a precedent for tea party senators like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul -- who have been leading figures in trying to defeat the health care law.

"When I came into the Senate, my attitude was I should just keep a pretty low profile in the Senate and just do the work," Obama said. "I didn't go around courting the media, and I certainly didn't go around trying to shut down the government."

He said that "being controversial, taking controversial positions, rallying the most extreme parts of your base -- whether it's left or right -- is a lot of times the fastest way to get attention or raise money, but it's not good for government. It's not good for the people we're supposed to be serving."

Obama read letters he's gotten from people in the country during his weekly radio address and said he'd remind Congress that "these are real folks that are being impacted.

"I'm getting letters every single day from farmers who have been waiting to buy some land and now they may not get a loan, and from small businesses," he said. "We give a billion dollars' worth of small business loans every single month -- those loans are not being processed.

"This is something that is concretely affecting real people," he said. 

He said the budget already contains spending levels -- due to sequestration -- that Republicans preferred, rather than Democrats.

"Essentially what's happened here is Democrats are saying they are prepared to pass a Republican budget for two months while negotiations continue," he told AP. "We just can't have a whole bunch of other extraneous stuff in it, and the obsession with the Affordable Care Act, with Obamacare, has to stop; that that is not something that should be a price for keeping the government open."

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