Obama aims to resuscitate Obamacare with Rose Garden rally

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama goes back on the virtual campaign-trail Monday, with a midday rally in the Rose Garden to champion his crippled takeover of the nation’s health-sector.

“The President will be joined by consumers, small business owners, and pharmacists who have either benefitted from the [Obamacare] health care law already or are helping consumers learn about what the law means for them and how they can get covered,” said a White House statement.

“The group will include individuals who have already applied for and enrolled in quality, affordable coverage through the Marketplaces and those who are planning to after exploring and comparing their new health care options,” said the statement.

White House officials likely have checked the bona-fides of the individuals, to ensure none of the facts in their stories will turn out to be false in ways that embarrass the president. Early Obamacare success stories have turned out to be either erroneous or outright lies. (Related: Obamacare hero Chad Henderson confirms he never purchased health care plan, blames ‘confusion’)

The glaring failure of the exchange rollout has put the president under unexpected pressure even from the usually compliant media. But the press statement did not say if he would replace his Obamacare deputies with outside experts. (Related: HHS calling in tech surge to fix broken Obamacare site)

The Rose Garden press event illustrates Obama’s confidence in his ability to win political fights, regardless of the day-to-day merits of his health-care, educational, and economic policies.

However, his Rose Garden rhetoric is unlikely to mollify the increasing number of Americans hit by higher health-care costs. Their numbers will rise during 2014 when medium and large employers must revamp the health-insurance services they provide to roughly 100 million employees and family members.

Throughout 2013, numerous companies have reduced employment and reduced workers’ hours to escape the high cost of the Obamacare regulations. Unemployment remains very high, and many people have given up trying to find work.

The scope of the Obamacare catastrophe is generating calls for a high-level sacrifice within the president’s team. (Related: Sen. Pat Roberts to Sebelius: RESIGN in absence of full Obamacare repeal)

For the moment, however, Americans have no alternative but to hope Obama fixes what he broke.

GOP legislators have not managed to win committee approval in the House for laws that would reestablish free-market health. Some drafts have been developed, but they haven’t accumulated enough political support in the House to allow GOP legislators to tout them during the 2014 midterm elections. Polls show that most Americans oppose the Obamacare system, but also that many want an alternative law in place before Obamacare is ended.

The untested online portal to the mandatory, government-designed Obamacare network crashed on opening day, Oct. 1.

Since then, officials have rushed to minimize the problems, which reportedly include software bottlenecks and the transfer of incomplete or inaccurate data from the government website to quasi-government companies, such as Aetna.

“Since launch, when we first recognized these issues, we have been working around the clock… 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,” said statement Sunday from the Department of health and Human Services.

The task of fixing the problem is complicated by Obama’s political priorities.

The task of developing the online system was given by Obama to a government agency which lacks experience in the complex task. Officials delayed parts of the design and testing process until after the 2012 election.

Also, the government-designed health-care packages are more expensive than current services. To hide that spike, the Obamacare site requires people to go through a complex, multi-step process of requesting government subsidies before they can even consider which set of health-care services they will buy. (Related: Obamacare website troubles are meant to weed out healthy middle class)

Administration officials say 470,000 people have provided their basic data to the government. Officials have not said how many of these people have been awarded subsidies, nor how many have bought services from the companies.

The number of people who have successfully agreed on contracts with health-care companies may be well under 50,000.

To obscure the online failure, officials are touting the number of people who have been enrolled in Medicaid via the 2010 law. For example, White House press secretary Jay Carney cheered the addition of 56,000 people in Oregon to the government’s Medicaid network.

Officials had hoped to have 7 million people enrolled via the online site by March.

But they’re far from reaching their goal, even though the Obamacare law has eliminated insurance packages held by millions of Americans in 2013. Those Americans now have to buy medical services via Obamacare, usually via the website.

The shortfall is a critical problem, because it might mean that younger and healthier people will avoid the program.

Without those healthier people to offset the high cost of providing healthcare to old and sick people, Americans’ monthly cost of health-care benefits could rise rapidly, prompting many to quit paying into the system.

That process would further drive up prices for the sick people who remain in the Obamacare network.

In that crisis, Obama could try to expand Medicaid to more low-income people, and also lower the eligibility age for the Medicare program, which provides government-health services to older Americans and immigrants.

That expansion would likely be cheered b many progressives, because it would shrink the private-sector health-care system and give government even more control over the health-care networks needed by all Americans.

Obama has already stopped enforcement of parts of the law, which were set by Congress in 2010. For example, he’s told employers they don’t have to comply with a mandate that they report employees’ earnings in 2013. That decision to stop enforcing a legal requirement may spur fraud by people seeking federal subsidies, but it simplifies the rollout of the new law.

Follow Neil on Twitter