On Monday morning, President Barack Obama stepped into the role of pitchman as he tried to convince a skeptical public that the Affordable Care Act is a success and that Americans should keep trying to access the program despite the failure of Obamacare’s websites. Surrounded by a tableau of people who had either bought insurance through Obamacare or had benefited somehow from it, Obama tried to make the sale.
“What the Affordable Care Act does for you is to provide you with new benefits and protections that have been in place for some time. You may not know it, but you’re already benefiting from these provisions in the law,” the president said, repeating the administration’s argument from before Oct. 1, when the Obamacare websites went online. He said he wanted to remind the public that “the Affordable Care Act is not just a website.”
Obama also implied that the recent government shutdown was connected to the poor launch: “About three weeks ago, as the federal government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces opened for business across the country. Well, we’ve now gotten the government back open for the American people, and today I want to talk about how we’re going to get the marketplaces running at full steam as well.”
In fact, the Obamacare launch was not affected by the shutdown. A Department of Health and Human Services memo sent on the eve of the shutdown declared that its staff would not be furloughed and that “CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] would continue large portions of ACA activities.” Some opponents of a shutdown asked conservatives to call off their attack precisely because Obamacare would not be affected.
The president reassured the public that “[e]xperts from some of America’s top private-sector tech companies” were hard at work “overtime, 24/7” to fix the Obamacare websites. He also told Americans that they could apply for Obamacare on the telephone or in person, repeating the rather unfortunate telephone number, 1-800-318-2596 (1-800-F1U-CKYO). (The president seemed not to know of the call center’s problems.)
Obama was vague about the “thousands” who had bought insurance, but claimed that those who had accessed healthcare.gov were enthusiastic about it: “The product is good. The health insurance that’s being provided is good. It’s high quality, and it’s affordable. People can save money–significant money–by getting insurance that’s being provided through these marketplaces. And we know that the demand is there. People are rushing to see what’s available. And those who’ve already had a chance to enroll are thrilled with the result.”
To back up the president’s pitch, the White House presented a woman who claimed to be the first (and, it failed to add, one of the only) in the state of Delaware to have purchased health insurance through Obamacare. As Obama ground on, a woman standing behind him onstage fainted, providing fodder for critics of Obamacare on social media, who said she had either experienced a miracle healing or seen Obamacare’s actual prices.
It was reminiscent of the 1980s TV marketing phenomenon, Crazy Eddie–or the Hollywood comedy Dave (1993), in which the archetypal example of government waste is a program designed to convince Americans to like cars that they had already bought. With cars, at least, people could choose not to buy.