President Barack Obama discussed the rollout of the federal health law in a White House speech Monday. In the excerpt above, he discusses the technical problems with the federal health insurance marketplace website and what his administration is doing to help consumers get enrolled in an insurance plan.
A transcript follows.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The point is the essence of the law — the health insurance that’s available to people — is working just fine. In some cases, actually, it’s exceeding expectations. The prices are lower than we expected, the choice is greater than we expected.
But the problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody. And there’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am, because — precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work, I want the checkout lines to be smooth because I want people to be able to get this great product.
And there’s no excuse for the problems. And these problems are getting fixed. But while we’re working out the kinks in the system, I want everybody to understand the nature of the problem.
First of all, even with all the problems at healthcare.gov, the website is still working for a lot of people, just not as quick or efficient or consistent as we want.
And although many of these folks have found that they had to wait longer than they wanted, once they complete the process, they’re very happy with the deal that’s available to them, just like Janice is.
Second, I want everybody to remember that we’re only three weeks into a six-month open enrollment period when you can buy these new plans.
Keep in mind, the insurance doesn’t start until Jan. 1. That’s the earliest that the insurance can kick in. No one who decides to purchase a plan has to pay their first premium until Dec. 15. And unlike the day after Thanksgiving sales for the latest Play Station or flatscreen TVs, the insurance plans don’t run out. They’re not going to sell out. They’ll be available through the marketplace throughout the open-enrollment period. The prices that insurers have set will not change. So everybody who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance. Period. Everybody who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance.
Third, we are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner. We’ve got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems. Experts from some of America’s top private sector tech companies who, by the way, have seen things like this happen before — they want it to work. They’re reaching out; they’re offering to send help.
We’ve had some of the best I.T. talent in the entire country join the team. And we’re well into a tech surge to fix the problem. And we are confident that we will get all the problems fixed.
Number four, while the website will ultimately be the easiest way to buy insurance through the marketplace, it isn’t the only way. Now, I want to emphasize this: Even as we redouble our efforts to get the site working as well as it’s supposed to, we’re also redoubling our efforts to make sure you can still buy the same quality, affordable insurance plans available on the marketplace the old- fashioned way, off-line, either over the phone or in person.
And, by the way, there are a lot of people who want to take advantage of this who are more comfortable working on the phone, anyway, or in person.
So, let me go through the specifics as to how you can do that, if you’re having problems with the website, or you just prefer dealing with a person.
Yesterday, we updated the website’s home page to offer more information about the other avenues to enroll in affordable health care until the online option works for everybody. So, you’ll find information about how to talk to a specialist who can help you apply over the phone, or to receive a downloadable application you can fill out yourself and mail in.
We’ve also added more staff to the call centers where you can apply for insurance over the phone. Those are already, they’ve been working, but a lot of people have decided first to go to the website.
But keep in mind, these call centers are already up and running. And you can get your questions answered by real people 24 hours a day, in 150 different languages.
The phone number for these call centers is 1-800-318-2596. I want to repeat that, 1-800-318-2596.
Wait times have averaged less than one minute so far on the call centers, although I admit that the wait times probably might go up a little bit now that I’ve read the number out loud on national television.
But the point is, the call centers are available. You can talk to somebody directly, and they can walk you through the application process. And I guarantee, if one thing’s worth the wait it’s the safety and security of health care that you can afford or the amount of money that you can save by buying health insurance through the marketplaces.
Once you get on phone with a trained representative, it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply for coverage, about 45 minutes for a family. Once you apply for coverage, you’ll be contacted by mail — by email or postal mail about your coverage status.
But you don’t have to just go through the phone. You can also apply in person with the help of local navigators. These are people especially trained to help you sign up for health care and they exist all across the country. Or you can go to community health centers and hospitals.
Just visit localhelp.healthcare.gov to find out where in your area you can get help and apply for insurance in person.
And finally, if you’ve already tried to apply through the website and you’ve been stuck somewhere along the way, do not worry. In the coming weeks, we will contact you directly, personally with a concrete recommendation for how you can complete your application, shop for coverage, pick a plan that meets your needs and get covered once and for all.
So here’s the bottom line: the product, the health insurance is good. The prices are good. It is a good deal. People don’t just want it, they’re showing up to buy it. Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed.
And in the meantime, you can bypass the website and apply by phone or in person. So don’t let problems with the website deter you from signing up or signing your family up or showing your friends how to sign up, because it is worth it. It will save you money. If you don’t have health insurance, if you’ve got a pre-existing condition, it will save you money, and it will give you the security that your family needs.
In fact, even with the website issues, we’ve actually made the overall process of buying insurance through the marketplace a lot smoother and easier than the old way of buying insurance on your own. Part of the challenge here is that a lot of people may not remember what it’s like to buy insurance the traditional way.
The way we’ve set it up, there are no more absurdly long application forms, there’s no medical history questionnaire that goes on for pages and pages, there’s no more getting denied because you’ve had a pre-existing condition. Instead of contacting a bunch of different insurers one at a time, which is what Janice and a lot of people who were shopping on the individual market for health insurance had to do, there’s one single place you can go shop and compare plans that have to compete for your business. There’s one single phone number you can call for help.
And once the kinks in the website have been ironed out, it will be even smoother and even easier. But in the meantime, we will help you sign up, because consumers want to buy this product and insurance companies want to sell it to you.