WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - The Obama administration, beset by criticism over the botched opening of its new healthcare insurance website, says it is working on a plan to appease hundreds of thousands of people whose coverage has been canceled and millions of others unable to enroll.
While much of the criticism has come from Republicans, on Tuesday the head of the agency in charge of implementing President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law also came under fire at a congressional hearing from a leading Democratic senator, who said public confidence had been undermined by the flawed launch of the HealthCare.gov website.
“There’s been fear, doubt and a crisis of confidence,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. “What I worry about is that there’s such a crisis of confidence that people won’t enroll.”
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told a Senate oversight hearing, “We are working on a plan. This is actually a conversation we’re having today ... Is there a way we can actively engage to reach out to people who have been cancelled.”
Tavenner told the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that the administration plans to start a four month-long media campaign in selected markets next month aimed at bringing back uninsured Americans, particularly young adults, who were unable to access HealthCare.gov after enrollment began on Oct. 1.
“Our goal is to stabilize the website this month and then we do have a targeted plan that includes not only young people but the large populations of the uninsured,” Tavenner said.
The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was passed in Obama’s first term and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. It mandates everyone have health insurance or pay a fine and created new online marketplaces for insurance plans. Republicans have opposed the program as an unwarranted expansion of the federal government.
A month after online enrollment began, the HealthCare.gov portal for millions of uninsured Americans in 36 states continues to be hampered by technical issues that have blocked access to subsidized health coverage.
The administration has promised to resolve the vast majority of website glitches by the end of November. But the difficulties have increased political pressure from Republicans and some Democrats to delay implementation of the law or risk the failure of Obama’s biggest domestic policy achievement.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Tavenner also testified that her agency is looking for ways to guide people who are seeing their existing insurance plans cancelled toward the most affordable alternatives.
Republicans have held up examples of people with cancelled insurance plans as evidence that Obamacare is hurting the public and should be delayed.
They are also using it to attack Obama’s credibility. Obama had repeatedly promised that people who are happy with their health plans would not have to change coverage because of Obamacare.
But the law requires insurers to offer a higher level of minimum coverage that includes maternity care and mental health treatment, among other benefits. Individuals who do not have policies that meet the new standards may see their coverage canceled at the end of the year, or may find that the monthly payments are beyond what they can afford.
Democrats contend that victims are not being given a full picture of their alternatives, which include reduced-cost insurance through the federal marketplace and 14 others operated by individual states and the District of Columbia.