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HEALTH CARE

Obama signs up for cheapest Obamacare plan

But move is only symbolic, as president does not need and will likely not use the health care plan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 December, 2013, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 December, 2013, 4:51pm

US President Barack Obama enrolled for a US$400-a-month, “bronze-level” plan under his controversial and hard-won Obamacare programme – although he did so only as a symbolic gesture.

The White House said on Monday that Obama, currently on vacation in Hawaii, signed up at the weekend on the federal health care exchange to show solidarity with Americans. It was also a way to show support for the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010 under heavy fire from the Republicans.

Washington aides told The Washington Post that because his information was not contained in databases, Obama was not able to sign up on the Obamacare website, which had a disastrous, glitch-prone debut in October but has gone through extensive improvements to make it more reliable.

[Obama] was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support
Anonymous official

Instead, his aides enrolled on his behalf at the exchange in Washington DC.

The president’s salary of US$400,000 also makes him unqualified for subsidies, although the report noted that all US presidents are insured through the US military.

The bronze plan is the cheapest of four categories, below platinum, gold and silver, differentiated by the amount the insurer covers.

“[Obama] was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support for these marketplaces, which are providing quality, affordable health care options to more than a million people,” an anonymous official was quoted as saying.

Republicans had been pressuring Obama to sign up for the plan and “share the suffering” with hundreds of thousands of Americans, the report added.

Obama's maneouvre also came as the administration moved the deadline for signing up for health insurance from Monday to Tuesday, giving Americans in 36 states more time to select a plan.

Deadline moved

It was the latest in a series of pushed-back deadlines and delays that have marked the rollout of the health care law, the signature legislative achievement of Obama’s first term.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the federal agency in charge of the overhaul, said the grace period which runs through Tuesday was being offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to allow for any technical problems that might result from a last-minute rush of applicants.

Consumers are already confused and insurers are overwhelmed with the administration’s last-minute changes
Mary Taylor, Ohio insurance chief

The HealthCare.gov site has been improved to increase its capacity, and the administration said the system was running well on Monday.

By the afternoon, the site had received a record 850,000 visits, five times the number logged by the same time last Monday, the administration said.

Bataille said the system was handling the volume with error rates of less than 1 in 200 and response times of less than one second.

The Obama administration is hoping for a surge of year-end enrolments to show that the technical problems were merely a temporary setback. That would also go a long way toward easing concerns that insurance companies would not be able to sign up enough young, healthy people to keep prices low for everyone.

But the grace period may have been a tacit acknowledgement that the website remains vulnerable to heavy traffic. Further, the delay offered critics of Obamacare another opportunity to argue that the law still was not working and that Obama keeps changing the rules.

Confusion

“Consumers are already confused and insurers are overwhelmed with the administration’s last-minute changes, yet there seems to be no end in sight,” said Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, a Republican who heads the insurance department of the US state of Ohio.

The administration was careful not to characterise Tuesday as a new deadline or an extension, likening the move instead to the Election Day practice in which people who are in line when the polls close are still allowed to vote.

Obama said on Friday that more than one million Americans had signed up for coverage since October 1. The administration’s estimates call for 3.3 million to sign up by December 31, and the target is seven million by the end of March.

After that, people who fail to buy coverage can face tax penalties.

Monday had been the deadline for Americans in the 36 states served by the federal site to sign up if they wanted coverage at the start of the new year. The remaining states operate their own online marketplaces, and some of them have also extended their deadlines.

As the deadline drew near, more than one million people visited the website over the weekend, and a federal call centre received more than 200,000 calls.

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