Obamacare Fixes Calm Democrats — For Now

Democrats are relieved by website repairs, but don’t expect a celebration.

House Democratic leaders (L-R) House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) talk to reporters after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izad and Sam Baker
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Elahe Izad Sam Baker
Dec. 3, 2013, 9:18 a.m.

House Demo­crats are hardly ready to pop the cham­pagne for Health­Care.gov, the Obama­care en­roll­ment web­site whose ter­rible rol­lout sent the party in­to a full-blown pan­ic. But ten­sions eased Tues­day after White House of­fi­cials briefed them on the site’s pro­gress.

“Pri­or to the re­cess, there was deep and sig­ni­fic­ant frus­tra­tion, as there should have been. The rol­lout was a dis­aster,” said Rep. Steve Is­rael, D-N.Y., who chairs the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “As the im­prove­ments are be­ing made and ac­cess is more suc­cess­ful and as the White House fo­cuses on the suc­cesses of the Af­ford­able Care Act, then the frus­tra­tion in the Demo­crat­ic caucus ob­vi­ously lessens.”

The White House de­clared vic­tory this past week­end on the tech­nic­al side of its re­pair ef­fort, but get­ting the site func­tion­al by Dec. 1 was largely a polit­ic­al dead­line. And the site seems to meet Demo­crats’ stand­ards for “good enough.”

“We listened to our con­stitu­ents and said to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, ‘You need to get to work in fix­ing these prob­lems. You need to make this law work for the Amer­ic­an people.’ And to the cred­it of the pres­id­ent and his team, they got to work do­ing that,” Rep. Rob An­drews, D-N.J., said.

Vul­ner­able Demo­crats have rushed over the past six weeks to dis­tance them­selves from the law, but party lead­ers said that after the re­pairs, Demo­crats may not need to fear “Obama­care” ahead of next year’s midterms.

“I don’t know about rebrand­ing. The Af­ford­able Care Act is the Af­ford­able Care Act. It doesn’t need to be rebranded,” House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md., said. “The brand is okay. It’s the pro­cess of get­ting to the brand that hasn’t been okay.”

Wheth­er Demo­crats ac­tu­ally cam­paign on Obama­care next year re­mains to be seen — the law polls poorly, as it has since it passed. But Demo­crats at least seem to feel they have re­gained their foot­ing after stand­ing by for two months while Obama­care’s polit­ic­al im­plic­a­tions bal­looned.

“If we make pro­gress at the rate we’ve been mak­ing pro­gress over the last 30 days, I think we’re go­ing to be fine,” Hoy­er said.

Demo­crats ac­know­ledged that Health­Care.gov still needs work, es­pe­cially on back-end pro­cesses that trans­mit in­form­a­tion to in­sur­ance com­pan­ies. In­surers say the site con­tin­ues to send them in­ac­cur­ate or in­com­plete in­form­a­tion about the people who try to en­roll, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion still hasn’t built the com­puter sys­tem that will re­con­cile gaps in en­roll­ment in­form­a­tion.

Be­cause of those gaps in the sys­tem, the law’s sup­port­ers could face an­oth­er polit­ic­al head­ache over en­roll­ment er­rors: people who thought they had signed up but got lost in the chaos, for ex­ample, or who were quoted a lower premi­um than what they will ac­tu­ally have to pay.

“People are more up­beat but you want to make sure the ad­min­is­tra­tion keeps its fo­cus on fix­ing the prob­lems that re­main,” said Rep. Chris Van Hol­len, D-Md. “In some ways, we’ve turned a corner but we need to make sure that we an­ti­cip­ate fu­ture bumps and fix them be­fore they’re smack­ing you in the face.”

Still, Demo­crat­ic lead­ers said they were “pleased” with im­prove­ments in the site’s user ex­per­i­ence, and de­clared that they were back on of­fense over the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Pres­id­ent Obama is sched­uled to ad­dress the law this af­ter­noon, and the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee launched a new web­site, TheGOPHealth­Care­Plan.com, to high­light Re­pub­lic­ans’ fail­ure to co­alesce around a plan to re­place Obama’s health care law.

Is­rael said the White House knows it has to be more ag­gress­ive high­light­ing the law’s pop­u­lar pro­vi­sions, but could also do a bet­ter job on fo­cus­ing on the Re­pub­lic­an al­tern­at­ive, which is simply to re­peal the law.

“That will bring us back to a broken sys­tem,” Is­rael said. “So it’s good to talk about suc­cesses, but it’s also im­port­ant to talk about con­trasts.”

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