The launch of the federal Affordable Care Act for 2015 couldn’t be more different from last year’s roll-out of Obamacare, which was a mess that left millions of Americans hollering at their computer screens, fueled efforts to repeal President Obama’s signature legislation, and eventually cost Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius her job.
On Saturday, the first day people could sign up under the ACA for their health care coverage for 2015, more than 500,000 people were able to log on to healthcare.gov and 100,000 submitted new applications for health insurance, reports HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
There are two reasons for this weekend’s relative success: Many of the problems with the government health care website have been fixed, and fewer people joined the opening day rush, which saw 2.5 million visitors overrun the 2014 site.
Still, glitches appeared here and there for some applicants, including with the exchanges run by 13 states and the District of Columbia. The exchange in Washington State had to be taken down when it was found to include inaccurate tax credit amounts.
“There will be things that come up,” Burwell said during a visit to a community health center Friday. “We just need to be ready and watching.”
Also, some returning applicants apparently forgot their user names or passwords, or they had failed to reset their passwords as instructed.
Call centers have been helping resolve cases where consumers had trouble resetting their passwords, and the Health and Human Service Department said accounts were being unlocked on a timely basis. All told, the call centers had taken about 100,000 calls by Sunday morning, on a range of situations, the Associated Press reports.
Since its very rocky initial rollout a year ago, more than 7 million have enrolled, but the challenge now is seeing that they reenroll for 2015, which may involve picking a new plan.
“Bringing new people on – which is key to keeping insurers in the program and stabilizing the new markets – will be harder than in year one,” Politico.com notes. “The individuals who were most eager to get coverage have already done so, and the remaining uninsured population knows remarkably little about what the law offers. About 90 percent don’t know open enrollment begins this month, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly half don’t know they might be eligible for subsidies.”
Meanwhile, both Obama and Burwell had to address controversial comments made by a consultant who advised the administration on the ACA.
In recorded comments from more than a year ago, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber said the law passed in part due to the “stupidity of the American voter” and the “lack of transparency” about its funding provisions.
“The comments in the video were made at an academic conference,” Gruber told MSNBC this past week. “I was speaking off the cuff and I basically spoke inappropriately and I regret having made those comments.”
Still, the “stupidity” comment has brought a firestorm of protest, principally from Republicans aiming to gut if not kill Obamacare. Democrats too are mad about what’s become a major distraction.
“As one who worked hard to make ACA and its benefits clear, let me say: if you looked up ‘stupid’ in dictionary, you'd find Gruber's picture,” former top Obama advisor David Axelrod tweeted.
“I have to start with how fundamentally I disagree with his comments about the bill and about the American people,” Burwell said on “Meet the Press,” “Since I’ve been at the department, one of the things I focused on is transparency, making sure all our numbers come out whether good or bad. The other thing is the law is based on the issues of transparency and belief in the American people and choices in the marketplace.”
Speaking at a press conference at the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Obama said the law was extensively analyzed and written about before its passage in 2010, and in subsequent debates.
"The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with … is no reflection on the actual process that was run," Obama said during
"I would just advise every press outlet here, go back and pull up every clip, every story…. It was a tough debate."
As it no doubt will continue to be in the months to come.