Obama enrolls for health coverage, won't use it

by JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press

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HONOLULU (AP) — He won't use it, and he didn't actually sign up for it himself, but President Barack Obama has enrolled for health coverage through the new insurance exchanges.

Announcing his enrollment Monday, the White House called it a symbolic show of Obama's support for the fledgling exchanges where millions of Americans must buy insurance or face a penalty. Ironically, it also served as a reminder of just how complex and sometimes daunting the process can be.

Obama, like so many other Americans, couldn't use the website.

"The complicated nature of the president's case required an in-person sign-up," the White House said.

White House officials noted that for security reasons, the president's personal information is not readily available in government databases that the exchanges use to verify identities and check eligibility for tax subsidies.

But millions of other Americans have faced website glitches that made signing up through the exchanges difficult or impossible, particularly in the initial weeks before massive fixes to the site were put in place.

Unable to offer a camera-friendly photo-op of the president breezing through an improved HealthCare.gov, the White House quietly announced on Monday that, sometime over the weekend, aides had enrolled Obama through an in-person enrollment site while the president was vacationing in Hawaii.

"The president enrolled in a health care plan made available by the Affordable Care Act on the D.C. marketplace," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in an email.

As commander in chief, the president receives his health care through the military, so his new coverage will go unused. Rather, the move fulfills a commitment to personally participate that Obama made in 2010, when he signed into law the Affordable Care Act requiring millions of uninsured Americans to buy insurance or face a penalty.

Obama selected a "bronze" plan, the least-expensive plan available for someone his age. The White House said the plan Obama chose will cost him less than $400 a month. The president's wife and daughters, who already have health care, did not enroll. Obama plans to keep paying the premiums at least thru the rest of his Presidency, according to the White House.

Because of the president's income level and the fact that his job provides health care, he won't be eligible for tax subsidies that many lower-income Americans receive to offset the premium price. The president will pay the full premium himself.

Obama's enrollment in the exchange came just before Monday's deadline for Americans to sign up for insurance and still receive coverage starting Jan. 1. But even that deadline came with a caveat, underscoring the degree to which the implementation of Obama's top legislative achievement is still a work in progress.

Anticipating heavy website traffic by those looking to beat the deadline, the Obama administration effectively extended it by a day, giving people in 36 states a one-day grace period to select a plan.

The White House said a vacationing Obama received a detailed update on Sunday about preparations for that and other deadlines, and would continue to be briefed throughout his stay in Honolulu.

By the afternoon, the website had received a record 850,000 visits, five times the number logged by the same time last Monday, the administration said.

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