President Barack Obama discussed the Affordable Care Act’s disastrously botched rollout with 16 Democratic senators at the White House on Wednesday, including those seen as most vulnerable in the 2014 elections.
The president and Vice President Joe Biden addressed the lawmakers’ concerns about the implementation of the law popularly known as Obamacare, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Senators gave profoundly different accounts of the meeting, which did not appear on Obama’s publicly released schedule.
“It was a positive, constructive discussion,” said Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who described Obama as “engaged and responsive” and eager to show “that he has been listening to the concerns and frustrations we've shared on behalf of our constituents.”
But Senators Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Udall of Colorado reported back that they gave the president an earful about the embarrassing — and potentially politically crippling — rollout of the insurance marketplaces at the heart of the law.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable in this day and age that the administration can’t deliver on the promises it made to all Americans because of technical problems with a website,” Begich said in a statement.
“Alaskans should be appreciating the critical benefits of the Affordable Care Act but there is an understandable crisis in confidence because the administration has yet to get it off the ground,” Begich said.
In a separate statement, Udall declared that "the rollout of HealthCare.gov has not been smooth — to say the least — and I shared the concerns of Coloradans directly with the president.”
Udall said he pressed Obama to extend the enrollment period to give consumers time to buy insurance — and avoid the fines meant to force the uninsured to get covered.
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said in a statement after the talks that he was “very frustrated” with the rollout and pushed for delays in the sign-up deadline equal to the delays in getting the enrollment process up and running.
“The dysfunction and delays are unacceptable,” he said. “After meeting with the President today, I remain deeply convinced that this is a ‘show-me’ moment. This will not be resolved until Americans can, day after day, sign on to the health marketplace, review their options, and complete their applications.”
Three Democratic officials disputed the notion that the lawmakers present were “worried” about the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous rollout on next year’s midterm elections. One noted that several of the lawmakers attending hold “safe” seats.
But the White House released a summary that read like a carefully edited catalog of complaints from Democrats worried that Obamacare could cost them their seats next year — or could collapse entirely.
Obama and Biden sat down with the lawmakers “to hear their input on existing challenges with implementation” of the law popularly known as Obamacare and “discuss the progress” made, a White House official said.
“During the meeting, the president discussed ongoing efforts to fix HealthCare.gov and improve the experience of Americans looking to enroll in coverage,” the official said.
“The president emphasized that he shared the Senators’ commitment to ensuring that Americans who want to enroll in health insurance through the marketplaces are able to do so in time for insurance to start as early as January 1st, and throughout the open enrollment period which goes through March 31.”
Amid the controversy over Americans seeing their existing health care plans scrapped in response to the law, Obama also discussed “ongoing efforts to ramp up communication and education outreach to consumers who have received or might receive letters about how their individual market plans might be affected.”
Obama also recommitted himself to safeguarding “the privacy and security of consumers” applying for health insurance on the marketplaces created by the law.
And he asked the lawmakers “for input on how implementation of the law is impacting their constituents, and expressed appreciation for their ongoing help to ensure the law works best for families and businesses and all Americans can take advantage of the benefits of the law,” the official said.
The Democratic senators who attended were: Begich, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Coons, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Merkley, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Mark Udall, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Michael Bennet of Colorado.