At today’s White House press conference, President Obama came out to sell Americans on the Affordable Care Act and try to deflect criticism about Healthcare.gov’s continued glitches. I think most of us in the press expected him to address the shady government contract processes that allowed a mediocre web developer, CGI Global, to take on a $92 million, U.S.-government-funded e-commerce project.
But instead of providing more details about why most people still can’t sign up for the new healthcare plans online, the press conference turned into a bizarre sales pitch for how Americans can still purchase insurance . I don’t think I’ve ever seen a U.S. Commander-in-Chief say “1-800” so many times.
But don’t take my word for it. See if you can tell the difference between actual statements from President Obama and quotes from an infomercial. (Answers below the last quote. Don’t peek!)
1. “The prices are good, it is a good deal, people don’t just want it, they’re showing up to buy it.”
2. “In the coming weeks, we will contact you directly, personally, with a concrete recommendation with how you can complete your application, shop for coverage, and pick a plan that meets your needs.”
3. “If you’re one of the 47,000,000 uninsured, we can help. And, if you’re one of the millions dissatisfied with your current health insurance, this could be the most important call you make. Has your rate gone up? Have you been turned down? We can help.”
4. “It is worth it! It will save you money. If you don’t have health insurance, if you’ve got a pre-existing condition, it will save you money and it will give you the security that your family needs.”
5. “When you call, you’ll get to talk to one of our caring and friendly licensed agents who can help you decide which policy is best for your needs and budget. No matter who you are, no matter your age or situation, nothing is more important than protecting your health.”
6. “Once you get on the phone with a trained representative, it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply for coverage, about 45 minutes for a family. Once you apply for coverage, you’ll be contacted by email or postal mail about your coverage status. But you don’t have to just go through the phone. You can also apply in person with the help of local navigators. These are people especially trained to help you sign up for health care and they exist all across the country.”
7. “No one who decides to purchase a plan has to pay their first premium until December 15. And, unlike the day-after-Thanksgiving sales for the latest PlayStation or flatscreen TVs, the insurance plans don’t run out, they’re not going to sell out.”
1. President Obama
2. President Obama
4. President Obama
6. President Obama
7. President Obama
Lines three and five were delivered by none other than informercial legend Billy Mays, the late commercial genius who could make car wax and knife sharpeners seem like magical necessities. He was kind enough to lend his considerable powers of persuasion to sell health insurance (video above).
The Department Of Health and Human Services has promised a “tech surge” of the “best and brightest” to fix the ailing Healthcare.gov system. To date, most users still can’t sign up online. I’ve argued that tech startups would have been better able to design an e-commerce site, so I don’t know why HHS thinks that more government programmers will save the situation.
In the past, I’ve been exceedingly complimentary of Obama’s approach to innovation and transparency. But the press conference today was a bizarre mix of propaganda and crass salesmanship unbecoming of a president. The American people deserve an explanation, not a 1-800 number.