Obama Checks In Personally With Health Exchanges

August 22, 2013 5:30 a.m.

President Barack Obama held a personal video teleconference call Wednesday with the directors of the state-based health insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, that will go live on Oct. 1.

The White House confirmed to TPM that this was the first time Obama had spoken personally with the exchange directors. The president thanked the directors for their work thus far and offered them encouragement as the Oct. 1 deadline approached. He also received updates from the directors on their progress in setting up the marketplaces.One exchange director who was on the call told TPM that it was “a very positive and upbeat meeting.” The teleconference took more than 90 minutes, and the president reiterated the administration’s willingness to help with any problems.

The readiness of the marketplaces — which are essentially new commercial online start-ups — has been a major question mark. That’s in part because they will be the public face of Obamacare, the first direct interaction that many people will have with the law’s reforms.

A series of Government Accountability Office reports has highlighted the administrative and technical challenges still facing the exchanges. But the Obama administration has insisted that the exchanges will open on time.

The president was joined by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Gary Cohen, who is overseeing exchange implementation for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on the call. The directors from the 17 states who set up state-based exchange were on the call. The balance of the states declined to set up their own exchanges; under the law, HHS will set up exchanges for them.

As TPM reported, the next few months of exchange outreach will be key for making Obamacare work. The White House hopes to enroll 7 million people total and 2.7 young people under age 35. But only 1 in 4 young American adults say they have heard of the exchanges less than two months before they open.

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