Obama Says Exchanges Will Get Fixed, Defends Health Law

President Barack Obama took “full responsibility” for fixing the flawed U.S. health insurance exchange, while telling a Massachusetts audience that the state’s experience with its health-care law portends eventual success for the federal version.

Obama spoke in Boston as his 2010 health-care law is under sustained criticism from Republicans and on the same day that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized at a House hearing for the “debacle” of the failed opening of the online exchange that’s a central part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“This is the hall where seven years ago Democrats and Republicans came together” to overhaul the state’s health-care system, Obama said at Faneuil Hall, where then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican who challenged Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign, signed the Massachusetts measure into law. “It worked.”

The flawed debut of the exchanges where uninsured Americans can shop for coverage and the prospect of millions of people being thrown off existing plans have tarnished Obama’s signature first-term legislative achievement and threaten to overwhelm his second-term agenda.

“There’s no denying right now the website is too slow,” the president said. “I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.”

State Challenges

Obama acknowledged today that some people will have to pay more for medical coverage and said that Massachusetts faced challenges similar to those confronting the national effort. He said there was slow initial enrollment when the state law took effect and that the “parade of horribles” -- predictions that companies would drop coverage and that the cost of care would shoot up -- didn’t come to pass.

On a conference call organized by the White House, David Simas, an Obama communications adviser, said the “arc of enrollment” for insurance under the Massachusetts law started slowly and accelerated toward the end.

The Massachusetts experience “really does serve as the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act,” Simas said.

Romney, who campaigned in 2012 on a promise to roll back the law known as Obamacare, said in a statement today that the Democratic president didn’t learn the right lessons from Massachusetts.

Romney Reaction

“Health reform is best crafted by states with bipartisan support and input from its employers, as we did, without raising taxes, and by carefully phasing it in to avoid the type of disruptions we are seeing nationally,” he said in the statement posted to his Facebook page.

When Romney signed the state law, he was joined by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who had championed universal health care for years. Obama said a major part of the state law’s success was the bipartisan support it got from passage through implementation.

The federal law received no Republican support when it passed and House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal the measure since it was enacted. Some Republican governors have balked at installing its central elements, including federally subsidized Medicaid expansions to help the poorest individuals obtain care and setting up state online exchanges where consumers can purchase insurance.

“Americans would be better off” if the law’s opponents put as much energy into making it work as they have into setting up hurdles, Obama said.

Federal ‘Debacle’

The federal exchange serves 36 states that don’t have their own. Since opening Oct. 1 at the start of a six-month open enrollment period, the website has been plagued by delays, error messages and hang-ups that have prevented many customers from completing applications.

“No one ever imagined the volume of issues that we have, and we must fix it,” Sebelius said earlier today at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She said she is “accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”

While Republicans have called for her to be fired, Obama “has complete confidence in Secretary Sebelius,” Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters traveling with the president.

In addition, the start of the law is leading to the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of health insurance plans nationwide, contradicting Obama’s repeated pledge that people who like their coverage can keep it.

While in Boston, Obama also will speak at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fifth he’s done for the committee for the 2014 midterm elections. Obama will speak at a DCCC event at the home of Alan D. Solomont and Susan Lewis Solomont. Alan Solomont, an Obama campaign bundler, served as ambassador to Spain and Andorra until August.

The event, complete with Spanish food and Red Sox cookies, was to draw about 60 guests, including documentarian Ken Burns. Tickets range from $16,200 to $32,400 per person, according to the committee.

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