- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2014

In a format that’s usually friendly to him, President Obama ran smack into complaints about Obamacare Friday from two citizens selected to ask him questions in a virtual “hangout” organized by the White House and the online service Google Plus.

Rebecca Stewart of Covington, Ky., told the president she has had “a really panicked experience” trying to learn whether her 10-year-old son can continue with his specialist physician.

“I cannot keep my plan, which I like,” Mrs. Stewart told the president. “I’ve spent weeks with days on the phone getting confidently delivered wrong answers, conflicting information, and it’s becoming quite obvious to me that a lot of agencies, almost every one I’ve talked to, is having a lot of trouble figuring out the new rules.”

Mr. Obama, taking part in the online chat from the White House, promised to get her an answer by the end of the day.

“What I’ll do first right away is make sure that somebody out of here, this White House, calls you directly,” the president said. “And I promise you not only will they be confident, but it will be the right answer.”

The president has been roundly criticized for promising Americans often and emphatically “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” Millions of consumers like Mrs. Stewart have learned in the past few months that the promise wasn’t true, and have had to shop for new coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

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Mrs. Stewart told the president that the rollout of Obamacare “was perhaps premature.”

“You don’t have to pussyfoot around,” Mr. Obama replied. “The rollout was a problem because the website wasn’t working properly. I will say that in all these big programs … there are going to be some glitches involved.”

She asked the president, “What are you doing to fix this or simplify what seems to be such a complicated process?”

Mr. Obama replied that “first of all, the website’s working.” He also said the administration is looking at rules to make sure that a patient “can remain with their specialist for the duration of their treatment.”

The president then advised other listeners to call Obamacare help lines in various states “and hopefully, you’ll get a good answer.”

Mrs. Stewart interjected, “Yes. And I have called …” but the moderator cut her off.

The president also spoke with Darnell Summers, 57, a fast-food worker in Milwaukee who urged Mr. Obama to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Then Mr. Summers added: “With $7.25, and we were broken down to part-time to avoid paying health insurance, we can’t survive. It’s not living.”

The president never addressed Mr. Summers’ complaint that he lost his full-time status due to Obamacare’s requirement that companies provide health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours per week. The administration has largely dismissed reports that some employers are reducing workers’ hours to avoid paying for health insurance.

Mr. Obama told the man, “I think the one thing Americans agree on is that if you work full-time in this country, you should not be in poverty when you’re raising your family.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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