The Washington Post

The nagging health-care law problem for President Obama that won’t go away

It's rare that a presidential speech evokes comparisons to an infomercial.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about health-care from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)

But, for much of President Obama's speech Monday on his health-care law, that's exactly what it felt like. Obama spent much of the address detailing sign-up options for health care under the new law -- even touting an 800 number to use. "Wait times have averaged less than one minute so far on the call centers, although I admit that the wait times probably might go up a little bit now that I've read the number out loud on national television," Obama said at one point. "Just visit to find out where in your area you can get help and apply for insurance in person," he said at another. All it needed was an "operators are standing by to take your calls" reference to complete the infomercial feel. (By the way, the best political informercials ever were done by Ross Perot.)

The reason for Obama's somewhat odd -- and decidedly un-Obama -- rhetoric is simple: The long-touted rollout of the health-care law has been rocky -- and that's being kind.  Obama, knowing that the problems could threaten public perception of the broader implementation of the law, is seeking to try to calm fears and make clear that the Affordable Care Act is a lot more than  "The product is good," Obama said. "The health insurance that's being provided is good. It's high quality, and it's affordable. People can save money -- significant money -- by getting insurance that's being provided through these marketplaces." (He's right to worry; 56 percent of Americans said the Web site's problematic rollout are indicative of broader problems with the law's implementation in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday.)

This attempt at educating the American public on the law is a sort of same song, different day moment for the Obama administration. Throughout the fight to pass the law through Congress, the appeal at the Supreme Court regarding the law's constitutionality and the early stages of implementation, Obama and his senior aides have insisted that the problem isn't with the ACA but rather with misperceptions about it. Once people know what's actually in the law, public opinion would improve. As evidence, they would note that while a majority of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of the law, many of its individual components -- extending the time young people can be covered by their parents' insurance,  preexisting conditions etc. -- were (and remain) very popular.

Here's the problem. It's been three-and-a-half years since Obama signed the health-care bill into law.  Over that time, he has spent oodles of time trying to explain to a skeptical public why they should want it.  And, to date at least, it hasn't had any drastic impact on public opinion on the law -- which remains negative.

Could that change? Of course. If the problems with are cleaned up sometime soon and the data show tens of thousands of people signing up for coverage, this three-week period of turbulence will be forgotten.  Still, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. (That's Ronald Reagan, by the way.) And the president has been almost nothing but explaining his health-care law for the past three years.

President Obama, speaking Monday in the Rose Garden at the White House, told Americans that despite problems with his health care website, the process of buying insurance is now easier, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Obama: Health-care site will be fixed quickly

 Poll: Majority says Web site issues suggest bigger problems with law

Full coverage of Obamacare rollout

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.