Obamacare politics, a look ahead

Written By By LYNN SWEET Washington Bureau Chief Posted: 04/01/2014, 02:13am

WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jay Carney could have been talking about a relationship that soured and then got better. “We were in a bad place in October and November,” he said at the Monday White House briefing.

He was referring to the botched Obamacare October rollout, when health insurance enrollment opened for the first time under the Affordable Care Act.

Carney was all upbeat about Obamacare hours before the midnight Monday deadline to enroll, despite glitches at the Healthcare.gov website. Procrastinators triggered record traffic and enrollments at Healthcare.gov and at call centers.

So much traffic that Healthcare.gov crashed for a time Monday morning and in the afternoon — but nowhere as bad as last October, when the site just did not work.

“It speaks to the determination of the president and his team to get it right that we are where we are,” said Carney. More than 6 million have enrolled at state and federal exchanges, close to the 7 million Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in September would be a success.

To spur the stragglers, Vice President Joe Biden talked up enrolling on the “Rachael Ray Show”; Sebelius did a string of interviews in targeted markets, and White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett did 21 radio spots on Monday. John Legend was among the celebs the White House encouraged to tweet.

The deadline actually is elastic. All people had to do was start the enrollment process by midnight; they could finish it later and not worry about the penalty.

Carney used an administration messaging line of the day: “Just like when you vote on election day, if you’re in line and the polls close, you get to vote. And certainly we believe that’s the correct approach when you’re voting, and it certainly should be the correct approach when you’re enrolling in insurance,” he said.

And speaking of Election Day:

◆ Hitting the 6 million enrollment mark on state and federal exchanges — even if the number is closer to 7 million at the close of this first enrollment period — does not change the fundamental Obamacare political terrain.

◆ Democrats can head toward the November elections confident that there is no way Republicans can repeal the Affordable Care Act. It just can’t happen with Democrats controlling the Senate.

◆ Just as certain: Hurtling toward the November elections, congressional Republicans, either emboldened by Republican Rep. David Jolly’s Florida special election win in early March or wanting to work their base — will run against Obamacare.

“I’ve said many times, the problem was never just about the website — it’s the whole law,” said House Speaker John Boehner. He vowed that “House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law.”

◆ There’s more to the numbers — and it cuts both ways during campaigns.

The Democrats and the Obama White House can correctly say far more people are impacted by Obamacare than just those who have enrolled for the health insurance.

There are youths up to the age of 26 who have been able to stay on their parents’ policies; many more are covered because of the expansion of Medicaid.

Republicans can take shots at Obamacare until the administration reveals how many youths have enrolled, because young and healthy customers are needed to keep the health insurance rates from spiking. But if that’s a problem, the impact may not be felt before November, because in the short term rates are set.

The GOP can inflict more damage by focusing on the people who had heath insurance policies that were not renewed under Obamacare and employer plans impacted by the law. Even Obama’s biggest fans are not happy about higher premiums some will have to pay.

One of the big questions during this enrollment period has been over how many folks have actually paid for their plans, a fact the Obama administration has not released.

Sebelius, in a surprise, told Oklahoma’s KWTV in an interview: “What we know from insurance companies . . . it’s somewhere between 80, 85, some say as high as 90 percent, have paid so far. . . . Lots of companies have different timetables for when their new customers have to send their first payment.”

A mystery solved, until the next one comes along.

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet

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