On Tuesday night, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted that President Obama failed to oversee the rollout of his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. According to Sebelius, the president did not know that Healthcare.gov, Obamacare’s online hub, would have substantial problems on its Oct. 1 launch day. And, Ezra Klein reported Wednesday morning, neither did Sebelius.
Yesterday, I argued that the fundamental mistake the Obama administration made in its health-care Web site rollout was failing to appreciate that the Oct. 1 unveiling would attract massive interest from the moment the site launched. Project leaders should have expected very high Web site loads and tough scrutiny — and, most importantly, that the early rollout would be extremely important in setting public impressions of how the new system is working. If Healthcare.gov wasn’t going to operate well, the public needed to hear it.
Well, here’s more evidence. Klein’s telling has it that low-level workers withheld negative information from higher ups, making it harder for those higher ups to bring in more help, or to be clear with the public before and during the launch. But this wasn’t just any other policy introduction, in which that excuse might wash. Healthcare.gov is the first visible manifestation of a law that has dominated American politics on and off for five years. And, since the policy relies on lots of people signing up, bad first impressions of the site can materially hurt the system the law aims to create if they discourage people from coming back.
The president should have pressed. He should have tried to navigate the site by himself, all the way through, before Oct. 1. Sebelius should have tried more than once. After they got nowhere, they should have been honest with the country about what to expect. Both apparently failed that basic competency test.