PHILADELPHIA — Speaking to a room of health care lobbyists, professionals, advocates and reporters, ex-White House staffer Chris Jennings recalled what it was like to work on health policy in the Obama administration during the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s HealthCare.gov website.
“I can’t tell you, as a staffer, how hard it is to feel like you’re in a tsunami and rolling around, desperately trying to figure out ways to improve this situation,” Jennings said at the luncheon, which was hosted by the Real Clear Politics in connection with the Democratic convention.
Jennings suggested that the President wasn’t fully in the know of how bad the technical issues were with the website before it was launched, and guessed that if Obama had, he would have delayed the rollout until those problems were fixed.
“I think he and we all knew, when it became clear the technology was not going to serve us well going into the open season, that this was going to be a real problem,” Jennings said. “Now I will say, in fairness to the President of the United States, he asked the questions, and he got answers that didn’t fully convey that was the case. I personally believe that he would have most likely said, ‘Let’s delay this a year. I’ll take the political heat on that.'”
Jennings served as Obama’s deputy assistant for health policy and coordinator of health reform. He left the Obama administration in January 2014. He also worked for President Bill Clinton in a similar capacity and now is advising the Hillary Clinton campaign on her health care platform.
Jennings went on to praise the work that was done to fix HealthCare.gov, which nonetheless has continued to be a target of Republican criticisms of Obamacare.
“The focus, drive to get that working within six, seven months — certainly within three months, six months, extremely well — is an amazing story of people far more brilliant than I who came in from the inside and outside to change the system, and now it’s one of the best systems you have out there,” Jennings said.