She laughed easily while chatting with Caramanidis and the other Texans she met on this leg of her national damage-control tour, after the wildly rocky rollout of HealthCare.gov. But she also continued to repeat talking points that didn’t work the first time we heard them, or the second.
The Web site where Americans can sign up for coverage is getting better every day, she said once again. (In fact, it’s now working well enough that her artist son, 29, was able to sign up for coverage Friday: Yesterday, he’d tried and failed, she reported, but this morning he had called and told her “he got on and it took him 12 minutes” to sign up, although he hasn’t yet picked a plan.)
She also repeated that line about how “in football terms it’s still early in the first quarter,” with plenty of time left to sign up before penalties would be called on those who don’t get coverage.
Again and again, jargon got in her way, as when she said that she hoped the problems would be fixed by the end of November: “That’s the target for optimal flow-through.” Or when she acknowledged some of the problems that have plagued the site: “We’ve had some functionality as low as three in 10 making it all the way through the system.”
Nor did she seem to feel that the less said about the tennis pro, the better. “I was earlier today with a tennis pro who has not had health insurance for 15 years,” she told the crowd at a another event later in the day, in San Antonio, and he “is thrilled with his options.”
Her many friends note that it isn’t as though Sebelius herself wrote the code for HealthCare.gov or even ran the tests. But given the stakes, the unhappy history of previous government tech launches and the disconnect between her promises that everything was on track and the reality that it wasn’t? Those do add up to a communications disaster with her name on it.
Did no one prep her for Tuesday’s CNN interview with Sanjay Gupta in which she said the administration is bringing in the “A” team, as if the junior varsity had been in the game before? Or tell her to for heaven’s sake stop responding to questions with, “Well, the good news is . . . ” This is not the time for glass-half-full cheerleading or “It’s early in the first quarter” sports metaphors, but for restoring trust with serious and specific answers.
Even some allies are horrified that she hasn’t supplied those yet. “She couldn’t sell Count Chocula to a 5-year-old,” complained Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter who strongly supports Obamacare.