When President Barack Obama travels to Boston on Wednesday, he'll deliver remarks at Faneuil Hall, the same spot where then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) signed the nation's most sweeping attempt at health-care reform into law in 2006.
Obama's message will be simple, at a time when his own signature legislation is suffering from website outages and broken promises: Remember how bad Romneycare was upon its launch?
Obama has said, dating back to the 2012 election, that Massachusetts' health-care law was used as a model for the Affordable Care Act. That's a message the White House pushed once again on Tuesday, with press secretary Jay Carney calling it the "blueprint."
And later on Tuesday, the White House held a conference call with two former Massachusetts officials who were instrumental in the development and implementation of the Massachusetts health law — Jonathan Gruber, who is considered the law's "architect," and Jon Kingsdale, who Romney hired to implement the law.
"It's a marathon — not a sprint," Kingsdale said.
The message from the White House on the conference call: People need to be patient. In Massachusetts, the officials said, only .03% of the share of Massachusetts residents who eventually enrolled for health insurance signed up in the first month the law went into effect. In the final month of enrollment, before the mandate to purchase insurance kicked in, more than 20% of the final tally signed up.
Gruber talked about the "dire predictions" on what the health-care law was supposed to mean to the private-insurance industry in Massachusetts. In fact, he said, employer-sponsored insurance grew about 10% after the law was passed. At the same time, premiums in the individual-insurance market fell by double-digit percentages. And competition was introduced into the market.
"Perhaps what bothers me most is the notion that this is a socialized takeover of our health care system," Gruber said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Gruber also emphasized the fact that the law "ramped up slow" — it wasn't overnight perfection. Individuals signed up slowly, he said — only 123 signed up in the first month. By the end of the year — as the mandate deadline came up — it was 36,000 people.
"We have to recognize that relevant mandate deadline for the national law is next March. So the fact that people aren't signed up now for a policy they can't get until January — and which they're not mandated to have until March — is not at all interesting or important," he said. "What matters is that it will ramp up over time.
"And really, the bottom line is that the success of health care reform needs to be measured in months and years, not days and weeks."
There is a flaw in this argument — in Massachusetts, individuals had 10 months to sign up for insurance before being hit with a penalty. Under the Affordable Care Act, they only have six months — until the end of March — to sign up, something that has been made more challenging without a functional website.
Nevertheless, that was the key theme pushed by Kingsdale as well — buying insurance, for nearly everyone, is not like buying a car.
He said that a study well into the implementation of the Massachusetts law revealed that only one customer for every 100 people who visited the website ended up purchasing insurance. And only one out of every 18 customers who engaged with the website for a while ended up committing to a plan.
"Nobody goes down to their broker on a Saturday morning to smell the leather and test drive this baby," Kingsdale said. "It's a grudge-buy, and so there's going to be a lot of browsing."
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