Washington Watch for Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013

President Barack Obama spent a lot of time Thursday apologizing about the “fumbled” HealthCare.gov launch. And then he apologized some more. He repeatedly said the problems are “on me.”

He said the Affordable Care Act “rollout has been rough so far” and was “wrought with a whole range of problems that I’ve been deeply concerned about.”

He specifically honed in on the ongoing and website problems and the cancellation of about a few million health policies nationwide — roughly 93,000 in Louisiana — because they fail to meet the law’s minimum coverage standards and are considered subpar and because they were recently changed and fall out of the grandfather clause.

“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it,” Obama said. “And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear.”

His new “fix” is to let state insurance commissioners and insurance companies continue offering the plans that were being canceled for another year.

But it is entirely optional and already late in the game for many companies and policyholders.

And, in Louisiana, the person taking the most heat at the moment is U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has stood by the law and was a key supporter in originally making the Affordable Care Act the law of the land.

“I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for (congressional Democrats) rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place,” Obama said, “which is, in this country, as wealthy as we are, everybody should be able to have the security of affordable health care.”

Obama’s “fix” stops short of Landrieu’s recently filed “Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise” bill that would force insurance companies to continue offering the canceled plans and also explain to the customers why the plans fall short of the health care law’s minimum coverage standards. The president’s plan does do the latter, though.

Landrieu said the president’s decision is a “great step forward” but that “we will probably need legislation to make it stick.”

The problem is, though, that her bill only has a handful of backers so far and the GOP House leadership has already announced their opposition to putting additional mandates on insurance companies.

Her top 2014 opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is calling Landrieu’s plan a “political charade” and noting that she could have worked to fix the issues awhile ago. “It’s not rooted in policy. It’s rooted in, ‘How do I get re-elected?’ ” Cassidy said — a line that he is likely to repeat.

So what do the Obamacare problems mean politically?

“It’s certainly the best thing that’s happened to Cassidy so far,” said Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab.

“This certainly creates a major headache (for Landrieu),” Goidel said. “But I would say she’s handled it about as well as she can, given the circumstances.”

The election is still about a year away and a critical issue is how quickly the health care problems are resolved, or minimized, and how many future problems are avoided.

The employer mandate is still a year away and the health care exchanges will only work to lower costs if enough younger, healthier people buy into it.

Landrieu likely also will continue to blame Gov. Bobby Jindal for rejecting the Medicaid expansion to insure about 265,000 more Louisianians.

About 800,000 people are uninsured in the state overall.

“It’s almost clichéd to say, but a year is a lifetime away in politics,” Goidel said.

In the meantime, Democrats will try to focus on the positives — people with cancer and pre-existing conditions no longer being dropped or having their health care costs skyrocket, more young people staying on their parents insurance for longer, greater access to preventative care and cheaper prescription drugs for many seniors.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@ theadvocate.com.