Tennessee college student Chad Henderson was a media darling on Oct. 1, the day Obamacare's health care exchanges were launched. News outlets from the local Chattanooga Times Free Press to national organizations like the Washington Post and USA Today interviewed him after he announced on social media that he had successfully enrolled.
But it wasn't long until Henderson's story was debunked and he instead became the poster child for an administration desperate to prove that its signature achievement was working and had not been derailed by technical glitches.
Henderson initially said he and his father, Bill, of Flintstone, Ga., enrolled in an insurance plan sold on the new federal health care exchanges, which serve as a marketplace to buy coverage in 36 states. Another 14 states operate their own exchanges. All of them went online Oct. 1 to much fanfare — and chaos.
With so many people reporting problems signing onto the site, Henderson's case quickly attracted national attention. Here was a young man who said he had lived without health insurance for 14 years and was now covered thanks to the Affordable Care Act. And it was only going to cost $175 a month.
Enroll America, a nonprofit organization tied to the White House, helped put reporters in touch with the 21-year-old — who has volunteered for Organizing for America, President Obama's former campaign organization. He basked in the limelight, boasting on Facebook he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and Politico.
Henderson's father, however, told Reason magazine that they had not signed up for health insurance. “We’re going to be enrolling, and looking at it, you know, looking over everything. So we’re going to be deciding on what we’re going to do very soon,” he said.
Chad Henderson later admitted he misspoke. While he and his father successfully signed onto the site, created an account, and picked a plan, they did not officially enroll. He said he didn't lie, he just "got the terminology wrong," according to the Huffington Post, one of several outlets that initially ran with Henderson's story. The actual price of the insurance Henderson picked is also $50 higher per month than he claimed, Reason reported. A Twitter account for him has since become private.
Chad Henderson's account is a microcosm of the heavy scrutiny the exchanges have faced since going online. Depending on the metric — and the messenger — they’ve been either a colossal failure or the seedlings of success.
Those running the exchanges say the initial problems people had logging on and signing up is due to the volume of activity on the sites. In the first two days, 7 million people visited the federal exchange website, proof that uninsured Americans are excited to buy coverage, according to the administration.
But opponents of the law say the Obama administration was not prepared for the exchanges to be operational by the Oct. 1 deadline, and that’s why so many trying to access the online portals have experienced problems. The number of people who have signed up for insurance is just a small fraction of those who went to the sites.
That made Henderson’s case so compelling. But it turned out to be too good to be true.