The Associated Press
President Barack Obama conducted an interview Friday with AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace that covered a wide range of topics -- the government shutdown, the debt ceiling, health care, foreign affairs and the name of Washington's professional football team.
A text of the interview:
Question: Mr. President, thank you so much for sitting down with us today.
THE PRESIDENT: Great to be with you.
Q: There is a lot that I want to ask you about the government shutdown and foreign policy, but I wanted to start with health care. The signature element of your health care law went online this week, and the interest seems to have really exceeded expectations, but there were some serious glitches with the online systems. And our reporting shows that the number of people who actually managed to sign up for insurance in the states using the federal system was in the single digits. How many people have actually signed up for insurance this week?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't have the numbers yet. What we know is that, as you indicated, the interest way exceeded expectations and that's the good news. It shows that people really need and want affordable health care. And the product is a really good one. It turns out that choice and competition work. So what's happened is you've got private insurers who have bid to get into this system to offer affordable health care at significantly lower prices than anybody could buy in the individual market, because basically they're now part of a big group.
And it is true that what's happened is the website got overwhelmed by the volume. And folks are working around the clock and have been systematically reducing the wait times, but we are confident that over the course of the six months -- because it's important to remember people have six months to sign up -- that we are going to probably exceed what anybody expected in terms of the amount of interest that people have.
Q: Do you have a message for those Americans who tried to sign up this week and gave up in frustration?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they definitely shouldn't give up. Typically, what happens is when people are shopping for insurance, they visit a site or make phone calls or look at brochures five, six, seven times before they make a final decision. And they're not going to have to pay premiums until December -- the insurance doesn't start until January. So they'll have plenty of time.
And my message to them would be, each day the wait times are reduced. Each day, more and more people are signing up, and the product will save you money. People will save hundreds of dollars -- in some cases, thousands of dollars -- as a consequence of being able to get health insurance that is priced for them and gives them the choices that they need.
So the best example we have is actually Massachusetts, where they have a similar program. And what happened there is that the actual sign-up rate started fairly slowly, partly because people didn't want to pay three or four months ahead of when they would get insurance. But the interest, their ability to window shop, identify what's going to work for them, what suits their pocketbook, what kinds of tax credits they can get -- that's already happening. And what we know is that for at least 60 percent of the people who visit that site, they're going to be able to get good-quality health insurance for less than their cellphone or cable bill. And that is something that is -- a lot of people, understandably, recognize is going to give them the kind of security they haven't had before.
Q: The health care law is obviously very central to the government shutdown that's underway right now. Are you prepared -- given that you're not going to make concessions on your health care law, as you've said repeatedly, are you prepared to have the government stay shutdown up until the nation hits its debt ceiling in mid-October?
THE PRESIDENT: There's no reason that that should happen, Julie. We can vote to open the government today. We know that there are enough members in the House of Representatives -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are prepared to vote to reopen the government today. The only thing that is keeping that from happening is Speaker Boehner has made a decision that he is going to hold out to see if he can get additional concessions from us.