President Barack Obama used Monday – originally planned to be first day of a week devoted to signing up Latinos for health insurance coverage – to remind Americans the Affordable Care Act is not about how well a website works.
“We did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website. That’s not what this is about,” Obama said. “We waged this battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on Earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable, quality health care as everyone else.”
His effort to respond to criticism of the troublesome website created so people could shop for health care came after the White House said it was delaying the full launch of the Spanish-language site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, until planned for this week. The English-language site, HealthCare.gov was launched Oct. 1.
Obama said because of the website problems, the administration is doubling its effort to make sure people can buy insurance “the old-fashioned way” with phone calls or talking to someone in the community face-to-face.
He steered people to call 1-800-318-2596.
“You can get your questions answered by real people 24 hours a day in 100 different languages,” Obama said.
Users can read information at the Spanish-language site but cannot apply online for insurance coverage yet.
The insurance marketplaces are for people who don’t get insurance through their employer, don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare or are self-employed.
Meanwhile, Obama said people are working overtime to fix the site.
“No one is madder than me the website isn’t working as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” Obama said.
Obama’s speech on Monday was the second time he’s held a public address to thwart criticism of the law. On Sept. 26, he lambasted Republicans for threatening to shutter the government if money for the health coverage law wasn’t cut off.
The shutdown came and dragged on for 16 days while the nation edged close to defaulting on its debt. But an 11th hour deal crafted by Senate leaders ended the shutdown for a few months and funded the government.
However, conservative Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spent the weekend promising to continue to try to stop Obamacare.
Despite the glitches and criticism, the administration is going forward with its week of focus on Latino enrollment, said Katherine Vargas, White House spokeswoman.
A group of people who have signed up for care or benefitted from the Affordable Care Act joined Obama in the Rose Garden. Among them was Jessica Ugalde of New York, a college graudate who has been able to get treatment for a severe illness because the 3-year-old Affordable Care Act allows her to remain on her mother’s insurance until she is 26, the White House said.
Vargas said the administration and federal government are partnering with Spanish-language media to highlight the importance of the law in the Latino community.
Following the President’s remarks, a group of national Latino leaders held a press conference stressing that while there are glitches with the website, the focus should be getting the approximately 10 million Hispanics who are eligible for health insurance to sign up through toll-free numbers and local help.
“I think it’s a danger to focus to much on the website – we knew from the beginning this was going to be a ground game,” said Brent Wilkes, LULAC national director, saying that only about 25 percent of Latino families would be accessing enrollment information through the internet.
To that end, National Council of La Raza’s Janet Murguia said her organization has been working with nearly 300 community-based organizations in 41 states as well as DC and Puerto Rico to disseminate information about the Affordable Care Act and help Latino families enroll.
Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar said 6 out of 10 families are expected to qualify for health insurance plans for under $100 a month, and of these, many are Hispanic.
Latinos are considered critical to the success of Obamacare which will rely on the enrollment of healthier individuals to help offset the costs of medical care for those who are ill or less healthy.
Latinos tend to be younger than the general U.S. population and as such, generally healthier. Latinos have the highest rate of uninsured people of any ethnic group.
Some 10.2 million Latinos are estimated by the administration to be eligible to buy coverage through the health insurance marketplaces created by Obamacare. Some states are running their own sites and may already be operating enrollment online in Spanish.
The administration held events in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, which ran from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, before the government shutdown. This week’s focus on Hispanics and the health care law is supposed to be the culmination of those efforts.