President Barack Obama is trying to hit the reset button on a troubled second term that has followed a botched rollout of his signature health-care law and resulted in doubts over his competence while receiving the worst approval ratings since he won the White House in 2008.
The president is launching a three-week push to raise interest – and sign ups — in health-care plans through the government website, ahead of a December 23rd deadline by which time people must sign up in order to see their coverage take effect on January 1st, 2014.
Mr. Obama has apologized profusely and promised to fix the website that repeatedly crashed when it was launched on October 1st, as ordinary Americans tried to purchase health insurance on the government-run site that serves as an online health insurance shopping market.
Today at a White House event (2:30 p.m. ET), Mr. Obama will put names and faces to ordinary Americans who have seen lower monthly premiums and others who have signed up for health care for the first time – in some cases because Mr. Obama’s law has made it illegal to deny coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.
But Mr. Obama’s biggest challenge is how to restore confidence in his administration after fumbling the single-most important initiative of his presidency – a law that has struggled to win the approval of a majority of Americans and cost Mr. Obama significant political capital.
Flanked by a cast of Obamacare success stories, Mr. Obama will try to change the narrative – that the unreliable web site is Obamacare in a nutshell and that it is fatally flawed, a view pushed by his opponents.
“Let’s fast forward to the State of the Union [address in January 2014] and the months after that. Health care working better, a lot of people signing up, the economy continuing to strengthen, hopefully no Washington shutdowns,” said former Obama senior adviser David Plouffe on ABC earlier this week.
“I think the president’s numbers will recover. I think people’s confidence will recover,” he added.
That is Mr. Obama’s unspoken hope of Obamacare 2.0 and the relaunch of the one government initiative that will shape his legacy.
In recent days, the Obama administration has shown some nervousness about the reset.
Leading up to last Saturday’s deadline to fix the site, administration officials sent mixed messages – noting website improvements, but also asking Obamacare allies to hold off on December sign-up drives because they feared that a rush of people visiting the website might cause it to crash again.
Mr. Obama will be careful today not declare the site entirely fixed – any future problems could cause further embarrassment.
Already there are signs – gleaned from anecdotes reported by journalists – of ongoing glitches: computer-generated errors in the form of people who have signed up for coverage through HealthCare.gov and doubts that online sign ups have been successfully completed.
“As far as I know, I am in orbit someplace and nobody’s got a transponder on me,” said Florida resident Tom Woolford, who doubts that his sign up went through because nothing happened when he clicked to pay for the first month of his health insurance.
Mr. Obama’s aim is to break through the noise of conflicting anecdotes and connect people with the law’s original intent – to provide affordable health care to millions of people who previously had no coverage.
With a file from Associated Press