WASHINGTON – He doesn’t need it and will never use it, but President Barack Obama signed up for Obamacare anyway.
The political maneuver, announced Monday by the White House, was aimed at showing solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Americans enrolling in the new federal health care exchanges.
The move came after months of prodding from Republicans, who argued that the president should participate in his signature health care law – although the exchanges are designed primarily for those who don’t have or can’t afford coverage.
Obama was enrolled in the Washington, D.C., exchange over the weekend, aides said, purchasing a bronze-level plan that will set him back about $400 a month (with a salary of $400,000, he doesn’t qualify for subsidies). But aides said he won’t use the plan: Obama and his family will continue to enjoy, as all recent presidents have, medical care through the U.S. military.
As this act of political theater played out during Obama’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii, his administration continued to scramble back in Washington to prepare for the Jan. 1 start of coverage.
Anticipating heavy traffic on the government’s health care website, the administration extended Monday’s deadline for signing up for insurance by a day, giving Americans in 36 states more time to select a plan. It was the latest in a series of pushed-back deadlines and delays that have marked the rollout of the health care law.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the federal agency in charge of the overhaul, said the grace period – which runs through midnight tonight – was being offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to allow for any technical problems that might result from a last-minute rush of applicants.
The HealthCare.gov site had a disastrous, glitch-prone debut in October but has gone through extensive improvements to make it more reliable and increase its capacity. By Monday afternoon, the site had received a record 850,000 visits, five times the number logged by the same time last Monday, the administration said.
The Obama administration is hoping for a surge of year-end enrollments to show that the technical problems were merely a temporary setback. That would also go a long way toward easing concerns that insurance companies won’t be able to sign up enough young, healthy people to keep prices low for everyone.
The administration was careful not to characterize Tuesday as a new deadline or an extension, likening the move instead to the Election Day practice in which people who are in line when the polls close are still allowed to vote.