HONOLULU — In a symbolic step, President Barack Obama has quietly signed up for health coverage through the new insurance exchanges, showing solidarity with Americans still struggling to figure out what Obama's signature health care law means for them.
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.
The White House said Obama's decision to enroll demonstrated his support for the exchanges, the cornerstone of a sweeping health overhaul whose rollout has been marred by cascading delays and widespread technical problems. But Obama's enrollment experience offered little resemblance to that of most Americans who have shopped for plans through the glitch-prone HealthCare.gov website.
Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, did not personally enroll himself in a plan, and didn't go through the website. Instead, staffers enrolled the president in person through the Washington, D.C. exchange, the White House said.
Despite the effort to show Obama was taking a personal stake in the health law, he was signed up in private, without reporters present. Obama was enrolled over the weekend and the White House announced it on Monday.
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.
"Like some Americans, the complicated nature of the president's case required an in-person sign-up," the White House said.
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.
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'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.
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