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Salt Lake City mayor disputes Tribune exchange report

Published October 11, 2013 7:22 am

Health care • SLC mayor says starting Sept. 29 he helped son shop on online portal; federal officials say it didn't open till Oct. 1.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the Affordable Care Act's online health exchange opened on Oct. 1, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker told reporters he had already found it fairly simple to use.

He now says he never claimed to enroll one of his uninsured sons, as twice reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

But his account remains unclear — while he says he began shopping on healthcare.gov on Sept. 29, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Becker couldn't have logged in or looked at health plans in the days preceding its Oct. 1 launch.

Here's what Becker said at the Oct. 1 press event:

"The last three days I have been working with my two sons who are both uninsured, and I have been looking ... working through the website at healthcare.gov and talking to very helpful navigators, as they're called, at the 1-800 number behind me, and we have been able to find health insurance coverage for them. It is relatively easy. Folks are helpful. The processes are pretty simple."

Becker was cited by The Tribune and the Deseret News as a rare success story amid widespread reports of glitches and computer crashes preventing shoppers from submitting applications.

Becker's spokesman, Art Raymond, later said in an email that the mayor "was under the impression" that his son had completed the enrollment process "when we did the press event."

And Becker did not challenge The Tribune's initial story, first posted on Oct. 1, until Saturday, the day a second story ran.

"Maybe I said something that left someone with the wrong impression, though I never intended to," he said seeking correction of the Oct. 5 story, which he said stirred "hysteria in the conservative blogosphere."

Conservative bloggers accused the mayor of lying as consumers across the country struggled to shop healthcare.gov and get past an initial "please wait" page.

But, as Becker notes, he never used the word "enroll," or claimed to have made a purchase. "With my older son we went right through the step of paying for insurance and then pulled back," he said.

Private insurers and brokers vying for uninsured customers have fueled confusion by steering people to their websites, and Becker spoke of being diverted by hackers.

"On Sunday with my older son we got right to the point where he was going to pay for [a health plan] when we realized we weren't on the healthcare.gov site," he said Wednesday.

Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid say the site was not open until Oct. 1, Becker said he is confident he was able to peruse plans on healthcare.gov the day prior.

"I don't know how to reconcile the differences there, because I was on the site and I was talking to the folks who were running the program, at least the customer service folks," he said.

kstewart@sltrib.com

Twitter:@kirstendstewart