Why Obama Should Be Freaked Out Over Obamacare

It’s worse than we know, this is the easy part, and millions of Americans could be hurt.

President Barack Obama meets with House Democratic leaders in the Oval Office at the White House October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Oct. 21, 2013, 6:08 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama said Monday he’s “frus­trated” by the dis­astrous launch of an on­line com­puter mar­ket­place for Obama­care. Here are five reas­ons why frus­tra­tion isn’t enough. He should be frightened.

1. It’s worse than his team has let on. The White House has tried to po­s­i­tion the failed first days of Obama­care as mere hic­cups caused by the site’s pop­ular­ity. Obama called them “kinks.” An ad­min­is­tra­tion spokes­man told the Wash­ing­ton Post on Sunday that the “main driver of the prob­lem is volume.” This is in­ten­tion­ally mis­lead­ing. 

The White House has heard com­plaints from in­sur­ance com­pan­ies, con­sumers, and health policy ex­perts about is­sues em­bed­ded deeply in the on­line sys­tem. For ex­ample: in­ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion provided to people about fed­er­al tax cred­its; low-in­come people er­ro­neously told they don’t qual­i­fy for Medi­caid; and in­sur­ance com­pan­ies get­ting con­fus­ing in­form­a­tion about who has signed up.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­fuses to say how many people have en­rolled through the fed­er­al ex­change, the key met­ric for de­term­in­ing how well the on­line ser­vice is work­ing in states that didn’t set up their own ex­changes. There are two pos­sible ex­plan­a­tions for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s un­con­scion­able lack of trans­par­ency. Their pro­cess is so screwed up that they don’t have the data, which would be em­bar­rass­ing. Or they have the data ““ and it’s em­bar­rass­ing.

2. This is the easy part. Find­ing and mo­tiv­at­ing people to take ac­tion on­line is the found­ing strength of Team Obama. This is what they do best. Man­aging a com­plex law is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, and it’s fair to ques­tion wheth­er the pres­id­ent and his team are up to it.

How do you con­vince healthy young Amer­ic­ans to pay for in­sur­ance they may not need in or­der to fund the pro­gram? Do com­pan­ies shed work­ers and work­ing hours to avoid com­ing un­der the law? Are people with cheap cata­stroph­ic plans forced to pay more in the ex­changes? Tricky ques­tions likes these will soon make the hard art of web­site design look like fin­ger­paint­ing. “The on­line fed­er­al health care ex­change, the heart of the Obama­care pro­ject, is such a rolling cata­strophe that it may end up cre­at­ing a ma­jor policy fiasco im­me­di­ately rather than even­tu­ally,” wrote Ross Douthat in a New York Times column titled, “Obama­care, Fail­ing Ahead of Sched­ule.”

3. It re­flects poorly on the pres­id­ent. Nobody ex­pects the chief ex­ec­ut­ive to be re­view­ing com­puter code or host­ing East Room “hack­a­thons.” But this falls on him. The CEO of a cor­por­a­tion or coun­try is uniquely re­spons­ible for mak­ing sure the team is on task, and he or she is ul­ti­mately re­spons­ible if it’s not. In Obama’s case, did he de­mand thor­ough up­dates on the pro­gress of the site? If so, did he ask the right ques­tions? Did he put the right people on the job in the first place? Giv­en the hor­rid first days of Obama­care, the an­swer to at least one of those ques­tions must be “no.”

4. It re­flects poorly on gov­ern­ment. The pub­lic’s faith in gov­ern­ment is at a re­cord low, just as Obama is fight­ing Re­pub­lic­ans on sev­er­al fronts over the size and power of the fed­er­al bur­eau­cracy. His ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to rap­idly im­prove the on­line ex­changes to stand any chance of con­vin­cing, say, young Amer­ic­ans to pay for in­sur­ance they don’t think they need. Bey­ond Obama­care, the Demo­crat­ic Party’s repu­ta­tion for com­pet­ency is as stake.  The cost of the site is already $394 mil­lion, a massive amount com­pared to private-sec­tor CMS work, and sure to grow.

5. It could hurt Amer­ic­ans. For dec­ades, politi­cians in both parties pledged to ease one of the lead­ing causes of anxi­ety in the post-in­dus­tri­al age, the lack of af­ford­able health care. Nearly 50 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans are un­in­sured, or about 15.4 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Mil­lions more are un­der­insured. Obama­care, en­acted three years ago over the ob­jec­tions of Re­pub­lic­ans, may or may not be the an­swer. But, as the White House likes to re­mind Re­pub­lic­ans, it’s the law and it de­serves a shot.

How sadly iron­ic it would be if Obama­care is denied a fair shake be­cause of its name­sake’s mis­man­age­ment.

“The Af­ford­ab­il­ity Care Act is not just a web­site,” Obama said Monday, “it’s much more.” True to a point, but the web­site is crit­ic­al to the law’s pur­pose: help­ing mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans bar­gain for bet­ter health care. Dis­miss­ing the ex­tent of the prob­lem and re­mind­ing voters that Re­pub­lic­ans fought the law — which is es­sen­tially all Obama did in his Rose Garden re­marks — is a de­flec­tion, which shouldn’t be con­fused with im­ple­ment­a­tion or gov­ern­ing.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4519) }}

NOTE: This story was up­dated after Obama’s re­marks.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×