Obama administration faces political, technical health care headaches

BY Terence Burlij  November 13, 2013 at 9:25 AM EDT


Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images

One of President Barack Obama’s biggest allies in the 2012 campaign became a thorn in his side Tuesday as former President Bill Clinton waded into the roiling debate over the rollout of the health care law.

“I personally believe even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview with Ozy, a Web magazine. The Morning Line

House Speaker John Boehner welcomed the comments from Mr. Clinton and urged congressional Democrats later this week to support a Republican proposal aimed at ensuring that Americans will be able to keep their health care plans if they like them.

“The entire health care law is a train wreck that needs to go. And while the two parties may disagree on that point, it shouldn’t stop reasonable Democrats from working with us to shield Americans from its most egregious consequences – like the millions of current health plans being canceled,” Boehner said.

“President Clinton understood that governing in a divided Washington requires a focus on common ground, and I hope President Obama will follow the former president’s lead,” he added.

In the Senate, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein announced Tuesday that she would co-sponsor a measure put forward by fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana that also seeks to make sure the president’s pledge is kept by requiring insurance companies to continue offering existing plans.

The addition of Mr. Clinton’s viewpoint complicates life for the administration as it works to fix the glitches with the website by the end of the month and figure out a solution to the deal with the millions of Americans who have received cancellation notices because their policies do not meet the standards set under the Affordable Care Act.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the president agreed with Mr. Clinton’s assessment and has directed officials to take corrective action. “The president has tasked his team with looking at a range of options, as he said, to make sure that nobody is put in a position where their plans have been canceled and they can’t afford a better plan, even though they’d like to have a better plan,” Carney said.

In Wednesday’s New York Times, Michael Shear and Robert Pear write that the administration is still searching for a path forward:

After the president’s apology last week for wrongly assuring Americans that they could retain their health plans if they wanted, senior White House aides said the president wanted to ensure that people who were forced off older policies with less comprehensive coverage were not stuck with higher monthly premiums to replace their insurance. But administration officials declined to say how they might achieve that goal, how much it would cost or whether it would require congressional approval.

What is clear, however, is that the president is unlikely to support the solution being put forward by House Republicans.

“What is not an effective fix is one that’s envisioned on the Hill by some legislation that would simply tell insurers they can sell substandard plans to anybody who might purchase them,” Carney told reporters at Tuesday’s press briefing. “We do not see that as fixing the problem. We see that as throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

As the administration tries to fend off political attacks over its handling of the rollout, officials are continuing to grapple with technical problems still plaguing the online exchange.

The Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein, Juliet Eilperin and Lena Sun report Wednesday that the administration is unlikely to have the HealthCare.gov site running smoothly by the end of the month:

Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.

The insurance exchange is balking when more than 20,000 to 30,000 people attempt to use it at the same time — about half its intended capacity, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal information. And CGI Federal, the main contractor that built the site, has succeeded in repairing only about six of every 10 of the defects it has addressed so far.

Government workers and tech­nical contractors racing to repair the Web site have concluded, the official said, that the only way for large numbers of Americans to enroll in the health-care plans soon is by using other means so that the online system isn’t overburdened.

Several of the administration’s technology officials are set to face tough questions about the difficulties with the website when they testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

And despite the president’s opposition to their plan, House Republicans have scheduled a vote Friday on the “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” authored by Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton. The Huffington Post reports Georgia’s John Barrow Tuesday became the first Democrat to announce his support for the proposal.

As part of our ongoing coverage of the health care law, the NewsHour profiled Washington, D.C., resident Deborah Persico on Tuesday’s program. The self-employed lawyer expressed frustration over having her coverage cancelled because it did not meet the ACA’s new standards.

Judy Woodruff and Kaiser Health News’ Mary Agnes Carey reviewed some of the problems people have faced in signing up with the federal health care system. Watch the segment here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie will sign the same-sex marriage bill that passed the state Senate Tuesday, making it the 15th state plus the District of Columbia to allow same-sex marriages. Couples may begin to marry in the islands in early December. Hawaii’s move is among a wave of state-level changes that allow gay couples to marry since the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Illinois’ governor will sign that state’s same-sex marriage bill on Nov. 20.

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Kane puts the latest fight in the Senate over judicial nominees into some historical context.

  • An appeals court in Austin will hear arguments today on the affirmative action case the Supreme Court sent back to the lower court earlier this year. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a white woman says the school’s admissions policy, which uses race as one of several factors to decide admitted students, is illegal.

  • Russell Berman chronicles in a two-part story for The Hill how a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform collapsed in Congress this year.

  • Former Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan commented on a possible 2016 presidential bid: “Once I’m through with this term, then I’m going to give a hard look at it.”

  • Adrienne LaFrance argues in this Slate piece that because people live longer today than in the 1800s, lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices don’t make sense.

  • Congressional approval has reached an all-time low — again. According to Gallup, just nine percent of Americans feel positively about how Congress is handling its job, the lowest number recorded in the 39 years the polling organization has asked the question.

  • Tina Turner, who lives in Switzerland, is giving up her U.S. citizenship.

  • Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has been dogged by charges of plagiarism in some of his speeches and writings, provided 33 footnotes for the remarks he delivered Tuesday at the Citadel.

  • A New York town needed Sen. Chuck Schumer to pressure the state Department of Transportation to put up a road sign diverting truck traffic.

  • Caroline Kennedy was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court won’t take a case on a now-defunct Oklahoma law requiring women to have ultrasounds and see the images before they would have an abortion. The lower court’s ruling that struck down the law stands.

  • Wired Magazine compares philanthropy heads Bill Clinton and Bill Gates in a Q and A with both.

  • Outgoing Boston Mayor Tom Menino is headed to Boston University to help run the school’s new Initiative on cities.

  • You can post all the pictures of frozen meat that you want, BuzzFeed. The McRib is and will forever be delicious

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  • Former Vice President Dick Cheney sat down with Gwen Ifill Tuesday to discuss his own health and health insurance, among other things. When he was in his 20s, he didn’t have insurance and paid for his hospital bills with money he had saved for his honeymoon. Now, he says he’s afraid the president’s health care policy could erode quality care in the U.S. “I wonder what other additional surprises are in there that they are only now being sorted out in terms of how we’re going to accommodate all these people,” he said. Watch the interview here or below.

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