W.H. official: Don’t expect wave of enrollment
By: Paige Winfield Cunningham
September 26, 2013 05:16 AM EDT
Americans probably won’t flock to sign up for Obamacare coverage in October or even in November — and the White House doesn’t expect them to, a top Obama adviser said Wednesday.
Enrollment will go through lots of ebbs and flows over the six-month enrollment period rather than remaining steady, communications adviser David Simas told reporters during a 45-minute interview at an event sponsored by Third Way at which he downplayed the Obama administration’s expectations for the law’s rollout starting next week.
“October will be light for enrollment … November will be a little bit better,” Simas said. “December will be better than the previous month … probably a dropoff in January from December, the same thing in February with another increase in March right before enrollment ends.”
“There will be ebbs and flows throughout it,” he added. “We are looking at Oct. 1 not as the beginning of the six-day or six-week push. This is six months of raising awareness.”
Faced with intense political opposition from Republicans, widespread public ignorance about the Affordable Care Act and major new administrative responsibilities, the administration has been stressing that it doesn’t expect things to go perfectly when the insurance exchanges open on Oct. 1.
Simas maintained that tone. He praised the fundamental components of the law, calling the insurance premiums in the federal exchanges — which the administration announced Wednesday — the law’s “first indication of success.”
But he also acknowledged the realities on the ground. Simas said that “perhaps” the administration could have started its outreach efforts earlier, to prepare to sign up as many people as possible. But he blamed financial limitations for the late start — an indirect reference to House Republicans who have blocked the administration’s requests for more implementation funding.
“In a perfect world with a ton of money for outreach and engagement, perhaps you could have started earlier,” Simas said. “This is not a perfect world, and there are limitations on what you can do.”
Some proponents of the law have questioned whether the administration started public outreach early enough, concerned that fewer Americans than hoped will enroll in coverage next year.
Simas also said he doesn’t expect public opinion on the Affordable Care Act — which has remained roughly the same since the law was passed, with about half of Americans opposed to it — to change much. Instead, he pointed to some polls which have showed that Americans would rather improve the law than repeal it and start all over.
“When you ask people ‘Do you want to give this a shot to work or do you want to repeal it and start over again,’ the numbers are overwhelming,” he said.
And if not for the current political environment — with Republicans threatening to shut down the government over defunding the health law — Simas said he could also see both parties agreeing to fix and improve parts of it. But he said even moderate Republicans are too hesitant to do that now, given the stringent opposition from more conservative members.
“In a different environment, what would happen over the course of the next year is that Democrats and Republicans and independents would take a good assessment of what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “Based on what we’ve seen in the last two weeks, even if there are a majority of reasonable Republicans in Congress willing to take that approach, I think at that point they feel like they cannot take that kind of approach.”
If President Barack Obama and House GOP leaders are unable to overcome those disputes over the next week, and the government shuts down on Oct. 1, Simas said that won’t keep the core elements of the law from being implemented.
“The Affordable Care Act will be up and running,” he said. “There may be some impacts, but it does not go into the core of what we’re doing.”