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BOSTON - Declaring himself "not happy" with health care enrolment problems, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he takes "full responsibility" for resolving the computer problems that have bedeviled the administration and undermined a key step in the health care law. "We're going to see this through," he said.
Obama chose to address both the benefits and the difficulties of the health care law in Massachusetts, where the state's health care coverage provided the model for the federal health insurance overhaul. The president cited early problems with the Massachusetts law as he tried to lower expectations for the initial enrolment in the federal system.
"All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true," he said. "They're the same arguments that you're hearing now."
The president pointed to benefits already available under the 3-year-old health care law, including ending discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions and permission to keep young people on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26.
But he conceded the troubled launch of the open enrolment period that began Oct. 1.
"There's no excuse for it," he said. "And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP. We are working overtime to improve it every day."
Underscoring the president's challenge, the healthcare.gov website was down, because of technical difficulties, during his remarks. Republicans say the current computer dysfunction is more reason to repeal the law, and they're pressing Obama administration officials for an explanation.
Obama also tried to clarify the most recent controversy surrounding the law — the wave of cancellation notices hitting small businesses and individuals who buy their own insurance. When he was trying to sell the health care overhaul bill to the public, Obama had vowed that anyone who liked their insurance would be able to keep it.
The cancellation notices apply to people whose plans changed after the law was implemented or don't meet new coverage requirements. The president said those changes ensure that all Americans are able to get quality coverage.
"If you're getting one of these letters, just shop around in the new market place," he said. "That's what it's for."
He said that because of government subsidies, most people who must get new policies will pay less than they are now. But he acknowledged that "a fraction of Americans with higher incomes" will likely pay more.
Obama spoke in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was joined by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to sign the state's 2006 health care overhaul bill.
Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who advised both Romney and Obama on the development of their laws, said only 123 paying consumers signed up the first month of the Massachusetts law, with 36,000 coming on by the time penalties kicked in for failing to have insurance.
In a statement Wednesday, Romney said he believes "a plan crafted to fit the unique circumstances of a single state should not be grafted onto the entire country."
"Beyond that, had President Obama actually learned the lessons of Massachusetts health care, millions of Americans would not lose the insurance they were promised they could keep, millions more would not see their premiums skyrocket and the installation of the program would not have been a frustrating embarrassment," Romney added.
Obama, who lived in Boston while a student at Harvard University, was in town for a World Series game day, but his spokesman said he didn't plan to make a side trip to Fenway Park. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama was mindful of the impact his security entourage has on the public and never considered attending.
While in Boston, Obama also planned to speak at a fundraiser for House Democrats at the home of his former ambassador to Spain, Alan Solomont. About 60 people paid $16,200 to $64,800 to dine on Spanish-influenced fare, to be followed by Red Sox cookies in honour of the World Series game being played in town the same night.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.
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