PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – It didn't take long for the friendly-looking young woman whose face was splashed across HealthCare.gov to spiral from smiling stock photo to laughingstock. As it scrambles to correct problems with the website, the Obama administration is now asking people who have successfully purchased health insurance to let their pictures be used instead.
Two of them told The Associated Press they found the site easy to navigate, were happy with the plans they purchased and were eager to share their stories in any format, including becoming the new face of the health care overhaul.
Not long after she enrolled on Oct. 3, Deborah Lielasus of Portsmouth was contacted by the Department of Health and Human Services and asked to appear both in a video describing her experience and in photographs that could replace the stock photo. She agreed, in part, to set an example for her children.
"I think it's important to show them that you shouldn't hide from being honest and being sincere and talking about something that you believe in," she said. "Although family members have said to me, 'You don't need this, don't do this, because you're just going to get hurt,' I have felt like it is important."
Opponents aren't impressed. "The White House should focus more on fixing their flawed law and less time trying to prove their law isn't broken," said Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
Since the problem-plagued site launched Oct. 1, the stock photo has become the butt of jokes. The satirical newspaper The Onion posted an altered photo of the cover girl "visibly panicking," and others have dubbed her "Glitch Girl."
The department declined to comment specifically on whether Lielasus' picture will have a place on the HealthCare.gov home page, on which the stock photo has been replaced by icons representing various enrollment methods. It also declined to comment on the broader marketing campaign, which so far includes posting video of Lielasus and another person on social networks, along with a dozen or so images and quotes praising the health care law.
Since her video was posted, Lielasus has been criticized in news reports, online comments and personal emails for describing HealthCare.gov as easy to use even though she didn't enroll until three days after the site launched. But she wasn't sitting at her desk for 36 hours straight — she spent about an hour total over those three days — and once on the site, it was easy to navigate, she said.
"I'm not a fool," she said. "I saw that there were issues logging on and staying logged on, but I also saw that the site itself, once they're able to overcome those problems, is going to be a really user-friendly, attractive site that people of all ages and technical abilities are going to be able to manage."
In Orlando, Fla., 22-year-old Daniel McNaughton said his experience was similar. Like Lielasus, McNaughton said it was a Facebook post about his experience with HealthCare.gov that caught the administration's attention and led to his participation in the online video.
McNaughton, a student at Valencia College, said he will be paying $70 per month for a plan that covers "anything I could possibly need." That's about what he's paying now for a catastrophic plan that covers only three doctor visits per year. McNaughton said he looks forward to not having to guess whether he needs antibiotics for the sinus infections he gets every winter.
"I won't have to ration my doctor's visits," he said. "It gives me good peace of mind."
He told administration officials it was "more than OK" with him if they wanted to use his picture on HealthCare.gov.
"I think it would be a good thing to put my picture or others who've enrolled," he said. "It might make it easier for people to relate to what's going on with the exchange."