White House

3 Ways You Can Tell the Health Care Website Is Working

Here’s one: Republicans have stopped talking about it.

This December 2, 2013 photo shows a woman reading the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace internet site in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
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Alex Seitz Wald
Dec. 5, 2013, 11:10 a.m.

Just five days in­to the re­launch of the new and im­proved Health­Care.gov, it’s prob­ably too soon to say if the web­site is work­ing prop­erly in terms of tech­no­logy. The ini­tial num­bers look good. Al­though im­port­ant back-end prob­lems re­main, the site has handled close to a mil­lion users some days, and more people signed up Tues­day than in all of Oc­to­ber. But we don’t need the stats to know the web­site is work­ing in at least one im­port­ant way: polit­ic­ally.

Here’s how you can tell:

1) Re­pub­lic­ans have mostly stopped at­tack­ing the web­site.

Two sets of House Re­pub­lic­an talk­ing points shared with Na­tion­al Journ­al bare this out. Tues­day’s email, sent from the of­fice of GOP Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, barely touches on the web­site, while Thursday’s doesn’t men­tion the site at all.

The first email in­structs Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of Con­gress to high­light four of “Obama’s broken prom­ises.” The first three “prom­ises” re­late to cov­er­age prob­lems, such as poli­cy­hold­ers’ rates go­ing up. Law­makers are then en­cour­aged to at­tack the White House pledge that the web­site would be ready by Oct. 1, but not tar­get the web­site it­self.

Thursday’s memo, on the oth­er hand, make no ref­er­ence to the web­site at all. In­stead, it fo­cuses on a new poll show­ing that young Amer­ic­ans have soured on Obama­care, and en­cour­ages mem­bers to “host a town hall on a col­lege cam­pus in your dis­trict with mil­len­ni­als about Obama­care’s bur­den.”

An­oth­er in­dic­a­tion that Re­pub­lic­ans were leav­ing the web­site be­hind came Wed­nes­day, when the cam­paign arm of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans re­vived Mitt Rom­ney’s at­tack on Demo­crats that Obama­care cuts Medi­care by more than $700 bil­lion. Bey­ond be­ing a slip­pery claim, it’s also an old one. It was a center­piece of Rom­ney’s cam­paign and was even used in the 2010 midterms. Poli­ti­Fact called it “a talk­ing point that won’t die” — and that was over a year ago.

It’s a safe bet that Re­pub­lic­ans wouldn’t be dust­ing off old ma­ter­i­al if the web­site were still giv­ing them fod­der for fresh at­tacks.

2) Demo­crats have calmed down.

As my Na­tion­al Journ­al col­leagues Sam Baker and Elahe Iz­adi re­por­ted, Demo­crat­ic law­makers, who seemed at wit’s end with Obama­care just two weeks ago, have gen­er­ally re­laxed, at least for now. “This has not been fun, the last month or so. But it’s get­ting bet­ter, even the last few days,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id told a Nevada TV sta­tion Wed­nes­day.

In­deed, the White House has moved in­to sales mode on the health care law, while the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee and oth­ers have transitioned — if tep­idly at first — in­to of­fense.

“We’re go­ing to make sure that Demo­crats win on Obama­care in 2014. Any­body who thinks that Demo­crats are go­ing to lose on Obama­care in 2014 are wrong,” said Charles Cham­ber­lain, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Demo­cracy for Amer­ica, who ad­ded that his lib­er­al grass­roots group will use Re­pub­lic­ans’ op­pos­i­tion to the health law against them next year.

3) The me­dia has star­ted to move on.

In mid-Novem­ber, the Wash­ing­ton me­dia nar­rat­ive was en­tirely dom­in­ated by prob­lems with the web­site. The health law looked like an ab­ject fail­ure with little chance of re­cov­ery.

Since the web­site re­launch Sunday, cov­er­age has been more di­verse, with a ma­jor fo­cus oth­er is­sues like Ir­an, and more nu­anced when it comes to Obama­care. “It’s now clear that news or­gan­iz­a­tions are be­gin­ning to take ser­i­ously the idea that Demo­crats are not uni­formly on the de­fens­ive over Obama­care,” Greg Sar­gent notes.

Plus, the over­all volume of cov­er­age on the web­site is down. Ac­cord­ing to a Nex­is search, U.S. pub­lic­a­tions have wr­rit­ten 901 stor­ies about Health­Care.gov in the five days since the Sunday re­launch, com­pared with 1,611 dur­ing a five-day peri­od in mid-Novem­ber at the height of the pan­ic over the law. And the pace of cov­er­age may be slow­ing, from a peak of 272 stor­ies writ­ten Tues­day to 178 Wed­nes­day and 54 Thursday, as of pub­lish­ing.

It’s too early to tell if that trend will hold, but right now on Memor­andum, an in­flu­en­tial site that ranks news stor­ies based on how much people are link­ing to them, there’s just a single ref­er­ence to Health­Care.gov.

None of this is to say that the web­site is out of the woods tech­nic­ally. The back-end prob­lems are al­most more im­port­ant, if less vis­ible, than the user-side is­sues (though the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment said this week that they fixed a glitch re­spons­ible for 80 per­cent of those er­rors). And new prob­lems could emerge.

But the polit­ic­al-me­dia pan­ic has sub­sided, for the mo­ment, and Pres­id­ent Obama may just re­cov­er after all.


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