November 14, 2013
Barack Obama (AFP photo/Jim Watson)
Barack Obama (AFP photo/Jim Watson)

With Democrats facing a gut check moment this week — will political fear prompt them to support the fake GOP “fix” to Obamacare that actually undermines it? — Republicans are hammering away at the bad Obamacare enrollment numbers to sow as much skittishness among Dems as possible.

Central to this GOP strategy is to raise question the method the administration uses to count enrollees — those who have selected a plan on the exchange, but haven’t necessarily paid for it — to reinforce the message that Obamacare is already a catastrophic failure. Mitch McConnell has derided this as “Enron-like accounting.”

I asked the administration to explain the reasons for this metric, and a senior administration official tells me that there are a range of practical reasons why the administration has opted for this method.

“The Marketplace process ends when a person selects a plan – the information is sent to the insurance company and payment is a transaction directly between the issuer and the consumer.  Payment is not processed through the Marketplace,” the official tells me. “To determine payment information, you’re talking about tracking down information from a large number of different insurance companies in 50 different states plus DC, all with different regulations and procedures, which makes collecting payment information implausible at this point.”

The official adds that this is “consistent with how HHS counts enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Part D,” and adds that it would be misleading not to count those who have not paid yet, because “people have many weeks to pay their first month’s premium and have a variety of ways to do so.” Thus, the way to provide the most “reliable and accurate information” is to use the metric the White House has opted for.

I had previously argued the White House should be as transparent as possible about enrollment figures, including providing the number who have paid, in addition to the number who have selected a plan, if possible. According to this official, this number cannot even be accessed through the exchanges, however.

The larger point here remains this: Democrats should not get thrown off course by short term spin wars. They should not allow fear of Republican spin over Obamacare’s immediate failings dictate their policy position here. Either the law will work over time or it won’t, and no amount of positioning will change the fact that Dems own this law. They should own the law — health reform has been a Democratic priority for decades. No matter how justified Dem anger at the Obama administration over the rollout fiasco has been, it’s in Dems’ own best interests to keep the long view in mind here. The Democratic Party’s long term prospects are tied to health reform’s long term prospects.

As Brian Beutler, Jonathan Cohn, and Jonathan Chait argue persuasively — make sure to read all of those pieces carefully — the Dems’ best option is to weather the short term political storm. Dems should stick to a “keep and fix” message, but they should not let that lead them to embrace, for short term political reasons, any “fix” that would undermine the law — and by extension, undermine their own long term political prospects. Letting short term panic dictate policy — when the stakes in long term success are so high — is a huge mistake.

* DEMS SQUANDER THEIR UNITY IN OBAMACARE FIGHT: Sage words from MSNBC’s First Read crew:

We said this repeatedly during the government shutdown: The political party that’s unified is typically winning, while the party that’s divided is losing. And what happened during the shutdown? The united Democrats — who didn’t budge on major changes to President Obama’s health-care law — won that fight, while Republicans — who were divided on the merits of shutting down the government — ended up as the losers. Now the situation has flipped. After a month of bad news regarding the health-care law (the federal website not working well, the cancellation notices for some who get their insurance in the private marketplace, and the low enrollment figures), it’s Democrats who are divided and Republicans who are united. And the Democratic dam is now broken.

Yes, Dems, squandering your unity here is a great idea — after all, unity was so ineffective during the shutdown and debt limit fights.

* WHAT DEMS ARE REALLY THINKING ON OBAMACARE: The Beltway narrative has it that Dems are “running” from Obamacare, but something more complex and nuanced is going on. Politico reports on the real thinking among Dems as they embrace potential “fixes” to the law:

Voters are uncomfortable with the ACA, but private polling shows they are  receptive to a “mend it, don’t end it” message. If Democratic House, Senate and  gubernatorial candidates can show they want to fix the law proactively, the  party believes voters will forgive some bungling by the administration. And if  some Democrats are inching away from the president in an awfully public fashion,  lawmakers say they have felt little pressure from the White House and other  party leaders to make the existing text of the ACA a political hill to fight and  die on.

As I’ve been reporting here for months, this is the “keep and fix” message that Dems believe will, ultimately, win out over the GOP “repeal and replace with nothing” stance.

But here’s the key question: Will Dems get so spooked by the bad rollout that their “keep and fix” message leads them to embrace “fixes” that unintentionally undermine the law? They shouldn’t.

* WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE REALLY THINKING ON OBAMACARE: David Drucker has a must read that gets right to the core of the inherent contradictions in the GOP proposals to “fix” Obamacare with ideas that would undermine it:

As voter anxiety over Obamacare‘s implementation rises, congressional Republicans are moving to fix portions of the law that led to the cancelation of hundreds of thousands insurance policies nationwide while reaffirming their commitment to repeal the statute and replace it with conservative reforms.

As I’ve noted here before, if the law does work over time, the current GOP call for a fix to prevent people from getting kicked off insurance could only make GOP calls for repeal — which would kicks lots of people off insurance — tougher to sustain later.

* HEADLINE OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE DERANGEMENT EDITION: Drucker’s headline deserves its own little mention:

GOP strategy: Fix Obamacare to undermine it

Yep, that captures the fundamental absurdity on display perfectly.

* WHAT TO WATCH IN THE ENROLLMENT FIGURES: The New York Times’ big overview of the administration’s release of the low Obamacare numbers contains this important nugget:

Experts on all sides of the debate agree that the “mix” may be far more important than the actual enrollment numbers. If not enough young, healthy people enroll, premiums will skyrocket, and the law’s promise of “affordable care” will not be realized.

The administration has promised to release these numbers at some point, and you can expect Republicans to spin them as proof the law is certain to collapse, no matter what they actually tell us. But keep in mind that some foes of the law are actively trying to dissuade young and healthy people to enroll in hopes it makes the law fail.

* DISAPPROVAL OF HEALTH LAW SPIKES: A new Gallup poll finds disapproval of Obamacare has spiked to 55 percent, while only 40 percent approve. Gallup doesn’t offer respondents the choice of disapproving because the law doesn’t go far enough, and polls that do find a non-trivial percentage in that camp. However, an open-ended question from Gallup finds 37 percent disapprove because of “government interference.”

This could reflect weeks of bad press over the awful rollout, but the question is whether this will change if the law is seen to work over time and more people enjoy its benefits and fewer than currently expected face adverse impact.

* JOBLESS CLAIMS TICK DOWNWARDS: Steve Benen has it in chart form.

* AND HERS’S HOW OBAMA CAN MOUNT A COMEBACK: E.J. Dionne counsels the president to take his falling poll numbers seriously, and to grapple with the real reasons he is alienating key voter groups:

For Obama, there is no escaping health care. He needs to engage in an aggressive new defense that acknowledges problems in the individual market. He should be open to transitional patches but only if they do not undercut the overall reform effort. And he must take on Republicans over how high the cost of dismantling Obamacare would be to the large swath of Americans who will benefit from it — or already do. But he also has to grapple with the wider causes of discontent, from the surveillance program to gridlock on immigration reform to the strained economic circumstances of many who have supported him in the past.

What else?

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.