The President Just Bought Obamacare Insurance


The cornerstone provision of the Affordable Care Act — the online insurance marketplaces, which were designed to give individual customers collective bargaining power to foster competition and drive down insurance prices — launched nearly three months ago.

Since the glitch-riddled October 1 debut of the exchanges, more than a million people have signed up for private coverage through the federal website, fighting through numerous software errors and design flaws that caused hours-long wait times, prevented potential customers from creating accounts and completing the 30-step enrollment process, sent insurers the wrong information, and made it difficult for people to receive an accurate cost estimate.

Yet until last weekend, President Barack Obama — whose name has become synonymous with health care reform — was not one of those million-plus enrollees. But a White House official who requested anonymity told reporters Monday that President Barack Obama enrolled for health insurance via the District of Columbia’s online marketplace, selecting a bronze plan — which covers 60 percent of medical costs — with a premium costing $400 per month.

Because Obama’s annual salary of $400,000 makes him ineligible for a federal subsidy, the president will be paying the full cost of the insurance policy himself, the Washington Post reports.

However, the president — who is now on vacation in Kailua, Hawaii — did not complete the enrollment process himself. Rather, his staff signed the president up for coverage, The Wall Street Journal says.

“Like some Americans, the complicated nature of the president’s case required an in-person sign-up,” the White House official said in a statement released to the press, seen by the Post. “As you’d expect, the president’s personal information is not readily available in the variety of government databases uses to verify identities.”

In one sense, Obama’s decision to purchase health insurance through the exchanges seems surprising. His enrollment was completed very close to a crucial deadline. Until midway through Monday, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pushed back the cutoff for Americans to purchase Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance beginning coverage on January 1 by a single day, December 23 was the last day to enroll.

In addition, Obama will not be making use of the purchased coverage. “The act of the President signing up for insurance coverage through the D.C. exchange is symbolic since the President’s health care will continue to be provided by the military,” the White House official said, per the Journal. “But he was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support for these marketplaces which are providing quality, affordable health care options to more than a million people.”

The political motivations behind the president’s enrollment are clear. The move was indeed symbolic — the health care reform law’s Republican opponents in Congress have been pressuring Obama to sign up for coverage using the system created by the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature domestic achievement.

“I’m glad he did it,” Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said in an interview with the Post on Monday. “I’m not going to take a cheap shot at him for signing up. It really wasn’t necessary, but if he didn’t do it we would all bark at him.”

Administration officials had long said the president would make good on a promise to enroll for health insurance via the online exchanges.

As for Congress, Monday was also the deadline for legislators and their staffs to sign up for coverage through the online marketplaces. However, House administrators gave employees including elected members a one-week extension in case of technical problems, according to CNN.

When Congress first passed the health care reform law three years ago, attached was an amendment requiring all lawmakers and their staff members to purchase health care insurance via the online exchanges. This meant lawmakers would lose the generous coverage they were granted under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, in which the government subsidized as much as 75 percent of the premiums.

The provision was written into the bill on the theory that if Congress was going to make Americans live under the provisions of Obamacare, those who authored it should, as well.

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