Comedian Jon Stewart challenged the government’s health chief to a little race Monday night.
The Daily Show host popped open a laptop and turned to guest Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: ”I’m going to attempt to download every movie ever made, and you’re going to try to sign up for Obamacare, and we’ll see which happens first.”
Sebelius acknowledged the flaws in the website, but pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people who logged on to create accounts, showing that there is a need in America for a system like the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s better today than it was yesterday, and it will keep getting better,” Sebelius told Stewart while admitting to launch that “started a little rockier than we’d like.”
The new law prevents companies from denying someone with a pre-existing condition—asthma, for example—from being denied coverage, and mandates that every American acquire health insurance. Sebelius pointed out that now those whose employers don’t offer insurance will have another, cheaper option than the current marketplace.
For the majority of the interview, Stewart challenged Sebelius on potential confusion over the Affordable Care Act, and questioned her about the “idea of staying with a market-based solution for a problem where people can’t be smart consumers.”
“There are too many externalities in health care that I honestly don’t understand why businesses wouldn’t jump at the chance to decouple health insurance from their responsibility, and why the government wouldn’t jump at the chance to create a single-payer system that simplifies this whole ‘garbledegook,’ and creates the program that I think American deserves,” Stewart said.
He continued to lay out question after question about why businesses were given a one-year delay, but individuals were not. “If I’m an individual that doesn’t want this, it would be hard for me to look at a big business getting a waiver,” he said.
Sebelius mostly dodged Stewart’s questions regarding the individual mandate responded that the Affordable Health Care program was intended to help the millions of Americans who are uninsured, for various reasons. ”Choices are there that have never been there, and help is there that’s never been there, and people can make their own decisions about what’s good for them and their families,” she said, adding that the Affordable Health Care was creating new rules for companies to prevent them from discriminating against individuals from enrolling for health insurance.
Sebelius also pointed out that the government was not “running the insurance programs,” just the enrollment process.
Stewart remained unconvinced. “It’s frustrating to have to defend something that’s less than ideal, or is functioning at what seems to be at a level of incompetence that is larger than what it should be,” he said.
A Kaiser Family Foundation/NBC survey found last month that the majority of Americans were more confused than enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama has repeatedly defended his signature health law as bringing affordable care to under-served populations. He has refused to negotiate with the GOP House on the law even as the Republicans used the health law to bring the government to a shutdown amid budget negotiations.