With HealthCare.gov on the mend, Obama launches new PR push

Two months after the disastrous HealthCare.gov launch, President Obama is renewing efforts to get the public behind the Affordable Care Act, his signature law. Kicking off a new round of Obamacare-related PR, Mr. Obama is holding an event at the White House Tuesday afternoon with supporters of the law and Americans who have already benefitted from it to take the focus off of its continued problems.

Public approval of the law has slumped since HealthCare.gov, the portal for the new Obamacare marketplaces in 36 states, launched on Oct. 1 with significant bugs. At Tuesday's event, Mr. Obama will discuss the ongoing work to fix the website, according to a White House official, and will "focus attention back on the core principles of reform that have been lost in the attention on the website."

The most recent polling on the law, released by Gallup on Monday, shows that 54 percent of Americans say they disapprove of the law while 40 percent approve.

Seventy-two percent of Americans say they are familiar with the law, but those who are familiar with it are significantly more likely to oppose it. Gallup reports that the data doesn't necessarily mean that more familiarity with the law leads to more negative opinions, since the correlations in part reflect party differences -- Republicans are significantly more likely to say they're familiar with the law.

On Monday, the administration said the website has been dramatically improved since officials launched a "tech surge" to fix it about six weeks ago. The website saw 1 million visits on Monday, the administration said -- far more than the site could previously handle in one day. Additionally, the site accommodated about 35,000 concurrent users before the new queueing function kicked in (although last week the administration claimed the site would be able to handle as many as 50,000 users at a time).

There are still significant back-end issues to resolve on HealthCare.gov -- and some back-end portions of the site that are still being built -- but the administration claimed Monday that it had fixed one of the major back-end bugs. Largely because of that bug, insurers complained they were receiving incorrect information -- or in some cases, no information at all -- from HealthCare.gov users who thought they had successfully enrolled in private plans. Administration officials said that one specific bug, which is now fixed, accounted for 80 percent of those problems.

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said Monday night that health plans are still seeing problems with the enrollment forms they're receiving from HealthCare.gov. He noted that fixes to the site can take a couple of days to be tested and verified, so insurers will have a better sense of whether the latest fixes are working in the next few days.

Citing unnamed government and industry officials, the Washington Post reports that the errors have, up to this point, affected about one-third of people who have enrolled in plans since Oct. 1. The White House disputed the figure but hasn't given out its own figures about the extent of the problem. If those errors aren't corrected, tens of thousands of people who think they have health insurance for 2014 may not have coverage.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said the administration is taking extra steps to make sure Obamacare enrollees are, in fact, enrolled.

"We are very mindful of making sure that consumers who want coverage starting in January are able to get it," Carney said. "And [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] is reaching out directly to consumers who have already selected a plan to let them know to be in touch with their plan, to pay their first premium to ensure that coverage kicks in, and know that plans are working hard to make sure their new customers are covered."

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to argue that the problems with Obamacare extend beyond HealthCare.gov's technical issues.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday morning will "try to focus on protecting [Americans] from a fundamentally flawed law."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters that the administration has "tried to hide" a range of problems with Obamacare, such as the back-end issues on HealthCare.gov and the fact that millions of Americans are being dropped from existing plans that no longer meet Obamacare minimum coverage standards.

"One has to ask, what else are they hiding," he said.

Meanwhile, House Government and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Monday sent a letter to 15 insurance companies asking for any communications they had with the administration since 2010 relating to Mr. Obama's promise that if a person liked his insurance plan, they could keep it.