NOTE: This piece was published by the Huffington Post on November 15, 2013.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. It’s been six weeks since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s new marketplace was open for business. And business is booming!
In the first month, 106,000 people have successfully signed up to get covered. This is about one-tenth of one percent of those who actually logged on to the website. I am confident that, working together, we can make it two-tenths. Hey, it’s not as if this is a one-day sale or something, am I right?
Now, about that website. It’s had a few glitches. Nobody’s madder than me. No one is more frustrated than I am. And no one was less informed than me. Except maybe Secretary Sebelius. She was really not informed. Boy, was she surprised. At the last Cabinet meeting she had this look on her face like that kid in Home Alone. Her neck muscles were all tensed up. It was pretty funny.
Let me tell you, we are on it. We have our tech experts working overtime 24/7 to fix the problem. In fact, we’ve locked them in a windowless room and we’re sliding pizzas under the door. Unfortunately, the room doesn’t have wi-fi. So we’re working on that.
In addition, Secretary Sebelius is flying to Brazil to see how Amazon.com works.
To be fair, we were hamstrung by certain realities. The way we purchase technology in the federal government is cumbersome, complicated and outdated. A lot of programs, like Medicaid, still don’t operate electronically. The Social Security Administration still uses that curly fax paper. The Small Business Administration has a single mimeograph machine. And the Commerce Department has wall-mounted rotary dial phones that can only call out.
The good news is — no wait, I have more bad news. At least 3.5 million Americans have seen their health care plans cancelled. They may have been misled by my statement that “no Americans will see their health care plans cancelled.” I apologize. I may have added “cross my heart and hope to die.” I apologize for that, too.
Remember when I said if you like your plan you can keep it? Well, you shouldn’t have liked those plans.
Nevertheless, I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem. So today, the fix is in.
I am announcing a new grandfather clause to help you keep those substandard, junk plans for one more year.
Now, this fix won’t solve every problem for every person. In fact, it might not solve any problem for any person. But we must try.
There is a catch. If you stay with your old plan, you won’t be eligible for federal subsidies to make up for the higher premiums we mistakenly said you wouldn’t be charged.
My health care adviser Dr. Christian Szell recommended this approach. Is it not remarkable? Simple subsidies, and how amazing the results. Life can be that simple. Relief. Discomfort. Which of these I next apply, that decision is in your hands.
There are those who say this late, half-assed fix will destabilize the market and result in higher premiums. Nonsense. I have every confidence that our late, half-assed fix will work. And if not, the people whose plans don’t get renewed will blame insurers, which is the optimal scenario.
Remember, the Affordable Care Act is more than just a website. It is a way of life. At the end of the day, it will give every American cheaper, better health insurance with generous subsidies and low-fat funnel cake. I give you my word.
Now I’ll be happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Thank you Mr. President. When the healthcare.gov website was launched, you said that it would be like shopping “for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.” Now you say you wouldn’t have been “stupid enough” to say that if you thought it would fail. This week it was reported that the system is unlikely to work by the end of November, as you have promised. Is this another case of you speaking without knowing the facts?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, I admit we fumbled the rollout. That’s on me. We dropped the ball, threw an interception, out-kicked our coverage, made an error, missed the layup, and let the puck slide through the five-hole. But according to my sports metaphor adviser, this is still the first quarter or inning or period. And our team is gonna win. Next question.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the Affordable Care Act relies on what you call the “young invincibles” buying health insurance. They must make up 20 to 30 percent of the pool to make the state exchanges work. But the law allows young people up to age 26 stay on their parents’ health care plan. This takes them off the market, ensuring the law’s failure. What will you do about that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We must not finger-point or engage in Monday morning quarterbacking. That does not help anyone get health care. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Period. We must mend it, not end it. Heal it, not repeal it. Next.
QUESTION: Sir, it’s been said that by making every plan cover conditions such as substance abuse, mental illness and contraception, the Affordable Care Act unfairly raises premiums for people who have no need for those services. Why can’t they buy a plan that meets their needs? Where is the freedom in that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: As Americans, we’re all in this together. If that means a 50-year-old man must pay for maternity coverage, and a 20-year-old woman must pay for cardiac stress tests, that is the sacrifice we must make. Freedom does not mean you are free to choose a health plan with inexpensive, limited coverage in a way that suits you and nobody else. That’s not freedom, that’s anarchy. Last question.
QUESTION: The Affordable Care Act was passed narrowly on a purely partisan vote. If the American people had known beforehand that the website wouldn’t work, their plans would be cancelled, premiums would rise, the new plan wouldn’t fit their needs, and small businesses would cut workers’ hours while big corporations got waivers, the law would never have passed Congress. Do you have anything to say about that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes I do. Free riders. Romneycare. War on women. The Koch brothers. Fox News. Extremists. Fighting for you. Fairness. Hope. Change.
I hope this answers your question.