WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS4) – Jim Benemann was in Washington, D.C. Wednesday where he interviewed President Barack Obama about health care.
The deadline for Coloradans to sign up for health insurance if they don’t already have it is Jan. 31. The statewide health care exchange Connect for Health Colorado is running ahead of last year’s pace in getting customers enrolled.
But Obama and some key staff members weren’t shy about pointing out that Colorado and Denver in particular are lagging behind other big cities in terms of getting people signed up by the deadline.
Obama knows cost is always a concern, especially for those living in Colorado’s high country, which have some of the highest Obamacare premiums in the country. Part of the reason is so few insurance companies offer plans in those regions.
When asked what he tells those people, the president responded, “Obviously with expansions of Medicaid we try to reach as many people as possible. There’s no doubt that in some rural pockets it’s always been tough to get health insurance because there aren’t as many providers there and not enough density. Overall, since the Affordable Care Act passed, 18 million people have insurance who didn’t have it before. In Colorado and places like Denver, seven out of 10 are going to get health insurance for less than their cellphone bill.”
There are tax subsidies to help pay premiums for families earning up to $97,000 a year and individuals making up to $47,000 a year.
“So we’re hoping that Denver can step up, take a look and see if in fact it is affordable. I think often times they will be surprised by how affordable it is. It’s high-quality care, gives you preventive care, gives you the kind of financial security that you’re looking for and you’ve got until Jan. 31 to get it done,” said Obama.
Obama concedes there will always be room to improve the massive Affordable Care Act. But for now, not getting signed up will mean a fine coming tax time — $695 for individuals and $2,000 for a family of four.
Obama says too many people in too many cities haven’t enrolled.
But Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell says health care inflation has at least slowed under Obamacare. She says it’s providing most enrollees better coverage than they had before, if they had any at all.
“Essential health benefits that include everything from maternity coverage, which sometimes wasn’t included, to things like behavioral or mental health issues,” Burwell said. “These are very important issues.”
Benemann asked the president for two things he would do to make Obamacare better.
“One thing we would do is just have all 50 states expand Medicaid, because the design of the program was to have private insurance for working families; but for some families who just can’t afford it even with the tax subsidy, make sure the Medicaid is covered,” Obama said. “We could probably sign up about four million more people if we did that.
“The second thing that I think we could probably do a better job of is for those small businesses who are providing health insurance and doing the right thing by their employees, but often times have small pools so they can’t negotiate as good of prices; we think that we could probably do more to help them.”
Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner reacted to the interview saying Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced.
More From CBS4’s Visit To The White House
On Wednesday morning, Benemann also attended a briefing with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
CBS4 Executive Producer Jeff Gurney tweeted a picture of the White House briefing room.
And another of Benemann working in the map room of the White House.
Benemann interviewed Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell while at the White House.
When Benemann and Gurney arrived at the White House, they were assigned an escort to guide them through their day. He was a former Pres. Kennedy staffer.
The CBS4 crew was greeted by a familiar sight when they arrived in the nation’s capitol– snow!
Benemann also couldn’t resist asking the president about his Super Bowl prediction, but the answer wasn’t definitive.