“If President Barack Obama wants to make good on a promise to become one of Obamacare’s first customers, he’ll have to take a route most Americans are unlikely to choose.
He’ll have to enroll in a health plan that lacks a taxpayer subsidy, even though he has access to generous coverage through his day job.
In the days following the passage of the health law in March 2010, the White House confirmed that Obama planned to walk the walk by enrolling in one of the health insurance exchanges his law created, assuming his reelection.
“The president will participate in the exchange,” an administration spokesman told USA Today at the time, rejecting Republican efforts to compel the president to do so by law.
It would be a purely symbolic gesture — much like his decision to cast the first early ballot by a sitting president last year — in part because he’ll still have access to the White House Medical Unit and the official physician to the president, an office that has served every executive since the Revolution. According to a White House description of the medical unit, the office “provides worldwide emergency action response and comprehensive medical care to the president, the vice president and their families.”
With his reelection in the rearview mirror though, Obama seems poised to make good on his promise to join an exchange. Asked repeatedly whether the president planned to follow through, White House officials deferred to the statement published three years ago by USA Today.
But the exchanges aren’t intended for people like the president. They’re designed for people who don’t get health coverage on the job. Most people in the exchanges will be there for that reason — and they can’t tap into the subsidies if they have another option.
Analysts agree that most Americans who already get adequate insurance from their employer are unlikely to opt for exchange coverage instead. Exchanges are to begin enrolling customers on Oct.1, with coverage slated to kick in Jan. 1, 2014.
One question remains: If the president follows through, will he get his coverage through the exchange in Illinois, his home state, or the District of Columbia? A spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray welcomed the president to enroll locally.
“Of course, we’d encourage the president to purchase his insurance from the District’s Health Benefit Exchange, which is on track for the October enrollment date,” said the spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro. “Our exchange will be prepared to serve all District residents, including those at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.”
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wasn’t ready to start an interstate conflict, though. “We’re very grateful for President Obama’s efforts to make the Affordable Care Act a reality, which will improve the health of the people of Illinois. The president’s personal health care decisions are his alone,” said a spokeswoman for Quinn.
White House officials also declined to say where Obama would purchase insurance or whether he would personally pay for his family’s exchange coverage.