WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Wednesday gets the chance to address younger Americans, a key demographic for the success of the health care exchanges set up under his signature reforms.
In remarks at a White House Youth Summit, Obama was expected to tout the benefits of the 2010 Affordable Care Act for young people, who often don't think they need health insurance.
The botched October 1 launch of the HealthCare.gov website for enrolling in the new exchanges undermined the administration's efforts to create early momentum for the reforms known as Obamacare that face relentless attacks from critics led by conservative Republicans.
With the website now functioning relatively smoothly, Obama launched a three-week blitz on Tuesday to promote the reforms as uninsured consumers now required to obtain health coverage face a December 23 deadline to sign up in order to be covered as of January 1.
"Our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit," Obama said at a White House event Tuesday. "Now that the website's working for the vast majority of people, we need to make sure that folks refocus on what's at stake here."
A properly functioning HealthCare.gov is crucial to implementing the most vital provisions of the health law that require people to have health coverage.
In theory, the law would create large pools of younger, healthier participants whose premiums would help offset the cost of providing care for older policy holders who use the health care system more.
The program depends on convincing younger people who might be less inclined to pay for coverage they don't think they need.
Administration officials hope the new ability of HealthCare.gov to handle 800,000 users a day or more without major problems signals a major step forward in getting people to sign up.
However, officials including Obama warn that glitches will persist and describe the website as a work in progress.
For example, insurance companies say some "back-end" aspects of the HealthCare.gov system continued to malfunction. In particular, insurers cite problems with applications from people who signed up through the website, including erroneous or missing information.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that tech experts were working on the processing problems, offering assurances they would be fixed in time for coverage on January 1.
Republicans seeking to dismantle the health care reforms leap at any opening to attack the law that passed Congress without any GOP support.
They accuse Obama and Democrats of lying about the impacts of the reforms, noting several million people had policies canceled despite pledges they could policies they liked, and describe the Affordable Care Act as an example of big government run amok.
The Republican National Committee demanded Wednesday that the administration make public the problems cited by insurers with the 834 forms for applying for coverage on HealthCare.gov.
"Democrats are spending this week telling people how great they think Obamacare is, but they can't even get a website to function correctly," said a statement by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, adding that "the entire law -- not just the website -- is riddled with errors and needs to be repealed and replaced."
Obama and Democrats accuse Republicans of seeking to eliminate benefits of the reforms -- such as guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and ending caps on coverage costs -- without proposing anything substantive to help millions of uninsured Americans get affordable health insurance.
A source familiar with the website said Wednesday that 29,000 people enrolled through it since officials announced Sunday that they had fixed the most egregious problems plaguing HealthCare.gov for the two previous months.
The three-day figure is a vast improvement over October, the first month of the six-month enrollment period, when less than 27,000 people signed up through the HealthCare.gov website that was supposed to be the main enrollment portal.
Overall, the total of enrollees in October topped 100,000, including those who used alternate channels and successful exchanges set up by 14 states.
Marilyn Tavenner, the official charged with implementing Obamacare as director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said at a congressional hearing last month that the administration initially hoped to enroll 800,000 people by the end of November. The overall enrollment target by the March 31 deadline for 2014 is 7 million.