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Obama To Address Health Care Website Problems


Now let's look at the politics of the Obamacare rollout with NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. She's on the line.

Hi, Mara.


INSKEEP: OK. So the standoff is over for the moment. The government is reopened. The battle over the debt ceiling is behind us. And now the focus is on this actual law.

LIASSON: That's right. We're now not fighting about whether the government should be shut down until Obamacare is defunded. We're going to be fighting about the success of the actual law. This is where many Republicans thought the fight should be waged in the first place. So today in the Rose Garden, the president is going to directly address the technical problems. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced a new tech surge, a new team of computer experts that's going to be repairing the website.

On the Hill, Republicans are going to hold a hearing on Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which so far HHS director Kathleen Sebelius is refusing to attend and Republicans have been calling for her resignation because of the rollout problems. So that's where we are in the fight now.

INSKEEP: Isn't this giving Republicans just endless opportunities to say, see, I told you so, it's not going to work.

LIASSON: Absolutely. This is an I-told-you-so moment. And the problem is that these technical problems are big problems. This is the president's most significant legislative accomplishment, and whether the healthcare law is implemented successfully or not will in large part determine his legacy.

And these are more than glitches, or as the administration initially suggested problems of too many people trying to visit the site at once. And as you heard Yuki explain, part of this problem is practical. If the website problems discourage enough young healthy people from signing up, and only sick people are willing to wade through these delays, the system could collapse of its own weight, which is what opponents have been predicting, and some supporters fear that the penalty for not signing up, one percent of your income or $95 in the first year, is not only too low but it's almost impossible to enforce.

So as Yuki said, we're not going to get actual enrollment numbers for another couple of weeks, but all of these problems are giving fuel to opponents, and ironically all of them would've received a heck of a lot more attention if the shutdown standoff had not been the overwhelming story in the last two weeks.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, let's talk about that, Mara, because Republicans, some of them, were urging another conversation, a bigger conversation about Obamacare. They were hoping that the law would become even less popular. What seems to have happened is the Republican Party became less popular, but what about the law itself? How has public opinion changed?

LIASSON: Well, during the shutdown polls showed an actual uptick in the popularity of the law. The law was still overall unpopular, but not by as big a margin. Now, that could just be a reflection of the negative reaction to the Republican shutdown strategy. But what we're waiting for now is to find out not only what uninsured people think of the law after they get on the website and they are able to or not able to sign up, but also what do insured people think of the law.

Do people's premiums go up, do their employer-provided coverage get worse, and will they blame Obamacare for that? Right now everything that happens in the healthcare delivery system, and there are big changes happening in healthcare, some of them because of Obamacare and some of them have nothing at all to do with the law, but I do think that all of them are going to get wrapped up in the public debate over Obamacare.

INSKEEP: Big debate within the Republican Party now, isn't there, Mara Liasson? You can think of someone like John McCain, who said this is a terrible law, but it went through the process, Republicans had their say, and people like Ted Cruz, who are arguing that it is still worth doing anything possible to block it.

LIASSON: Well, there's no debate in the Republican Party about whether Obamacare is bad and needs to be repealed. The question is about tactics. That's the big debate in the Republican Party. Do you need to have a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican in the White House in order to do this or is there something that Republicans can do right now.

So that debate will continue.

INSKEEP: And Republicans themselves have not agreed on the tactics for the next couple of months?

LIASSON: No. Although it sounds like they're not going to use the shutdown strategy again when we get to the next deadlines in January and February.

INSKEEP: Oh, Ted Cruz has been talking about not ruling out a shutdown, but powerful Republicans like Mitch McConnell say forget it.

LIASSON: Right, right.

INSKEEP: Okay, Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson on this Monday morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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