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Federal Health Insurance Website Features 'Reset' Button


The Obama administration is renewing its sales push for the president's signature healthcare law. This could be a sign of growing confidence that the technical problems plaguing the federal health insurance website are being resolved. Today the administration's hosting a youth summit at the White House where young people will be encourage to sign up for insurance coverage. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, participation by the young is crucial to help balance out the cost of insuring older, sicker people.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The president and his aides have spent much of the last two months in a defensive crouch while technicians struggle to fix the broken website and anxious insurance customers stared blankly at frozen computer screens. Now the president's hoping for a momentum shift. The website is running more smoothly, he says, and he asked supporters at the White House yesterday to help him spread the word.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Do not let the initial problems with the website discourage you because it's working better now and it's just going to keep on working better over time. Every day I check to make sure that it's working better.

HORSLEY: More than a million people visited the website on Monday and traffic through noon yesterday was just as heavy. Many, though not all, users are finding they're able to shop for insurance and sign up for coverage, so the president and his allies are now tentatively promoting the website with a campaign they've kept under wraps for the last two months.

OBAMA: We've learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it's going to be at all times, but if you really want health insurance through the marketplaces, you're going to be able to get on and find the information that you need for your families.

HORSLEY: There's no time to waste. People who want coverage that begins in January now have less than three weeks to sign up. Anne Filipic, who heads the nonprofit group Enroll America, says that group will be spending millions of dollars on advertising and face to face contacts between now and the end of the year.

ANNE FILIPIC: We go door to door in communities. We, you know, might be at the grocery store or at church on Sunday and meet them with information about what are the health insurance marketplaces, what are the new health insurance options available to them, and how could they take the next steps to enroll in coverage.

HORSLEY: To be sure, some users are still running into roadblocks on the website and the government is still struggling to deliver accurate enrollment information to insurance companies. Yesterday an inspector general warned the IRS needs to do more to prevent fraud with the insurance subsidies. These ongoing problems have been a political bonanza for the president's critics, like House Republican leader Eric Cantor.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: At this point, one has to ask, what else are they hiding? While the White House wants to claim that HealthCare.gov is now working, we know that Obamacare is still plagued with problems, and every American deserves relief from it.

HORSLEY: For the last two months, the White House has largely had to absorb these blows. But with its website now apparently on the mend, the administration is pushing back. Yesterday the president highlighted the 60,000 people who signed up for new insurance coverage or Medicaid in just one state, Kentucky, the home of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

Forty-one percent of the new insurance enrollees there are under the age of 35.

OBAMA: Right now what this law is doing is helping folks, and we're just getting started with the exchanges, just getting started with the marketplaces. So we're not going to walk away from it. If I've got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that's what I'll do. That's what we'll do.

HORSLEY: One of the fixes made to the website over the weekend is a new reset button that allows users to clear an old application that might be gumming up the works. With his new PR campaign, the president's looking for a reset button of his own.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.