The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Web site won’t take down the Affordable Care Act

What’s the worst-case scenario for the effects of Web site problems on the Affordable Care AcCA?

Adrianna McIntyre argues convincingly that an immediate “death spiral” is an unlikely outcome of a situation in which only the most motivated (and presumably costly) people get insurance through the exchanges this year. Even if problems prove so intractable that the administration is ultimately forced to delay the individual mandate for a year, “The real risk of delaying the individual mandate is long-term political fallout from Obamacare being labeled a ‘fiasco,’ not the dreaded insurance death spiral.” Click through to read more, if you want the details; basically, the law was designed with sufficient fail-safes that slow and uneven implementation will have costs, but not system-threatening ones.

But what about that “long-term political fallout”?

I wouldn’t worry about that. What matters, in the long run, is pretty basic: Does the program work?

And I don’t think anyone believes that the Web site problems — including the potentially even worse back-end problems — are impossible to fix. It may be that the design problems are a symptom of the complexity of the law, but that doesn’ t mean they are structurally unworkable.

The electoral schedule, meanwhile, gives everyone plenty of breathing room. The administration has plenty of time to get things fixed by November 2014. Even if health care reform is a net negative at that point, the worst that could happen is unified Republican control of Congress facing a solid veto from the White House.

And by 2017, if the Affordable Care Act is basically working, it’s highly unlikely that a unified Republican government (if that’s what 2016 produces) would repeal it, even if “Obamacare” still polls badly. At that point, it would mean taking away long-established benefits from too many people, including too many Republican voters.

So what really matters is the policy, not the electoral or congressional politics.