This ABC News headline wasn’t what the Obama administration wanted to see on Sunday: “White House Declares Obamacare Website Fixed, But Problems Persist.” But it was entirely foreseeable that the Dec. 1 deadline, watered down to “works for the vast majority of users” (defined as a B- or 80 percent), would not really give us a final product. David Plouffe, a former Obama administration political hack, helpfully suggested everything would work great by 2017. (I don’t think he was kidding.)
Not since President George W. Bush appeared under the “Mission Accomplished” banner has there been a riskier and more premature declaration of victory. There are a whole bunch of problems still to be resolved, apart from the 20 percent of users (hundreds of thousands? millions?) who can’t access the system.
First, as ABC notes, “The report implies that the website continues to experience unscheduled outages at least 5 percent of the time, and officials signaled that there are still concerns about slow-downs during high traffic periods. [Health and Human Services] Secretary Kathleen Sebelius advised consumers in a blog post Saturday to visit the site at off-peak times — mornings, nights and weekends — to avoid delays and potential congestion. Officials said today they are not yet ready to begin aggressively summoning people to the site until it’s demonstrated to be stable.”
Moreover, while data may now be going in, what is going out to insurers may be muddled, incorrect, incomplete or, in some cases, literally lost in the transmission. James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center explained, “It’s very clear from multiple media reports that the system is still not accurate when it makes payments to the insurance plan. In fact, they’re doing a workaround. They’re going to actually make large lump sum payments to the insurance plan, based on self- reporting from the insurance companies instead of actual individual subsidy calculations.” So now taxpayer dollars are flowing to insurance carriers under an honor system. What could go wrong?
In addition, the millions of people whose individual insurance plans were canceled will be joined by small-business employees whose plans will also be canceled. (Capretta explained that “lots of small businesses signed up for 2014 are going to get notices in the coming months saying, hey, you can’t get your old plan anymore. The same problem that individuals face, these problems are going to wipe all the way out through the small business community.”)
That leads to another unpleasant reality for the Obama team and its spinners in the media: The number of people who lost insurance because of Obamacare is, in all likelihood, going to vastly exceed the number of people who have purchased Obamacare by the year’s end. The crown jewel of liberalism, a national health-care plan, will, by the end of the year, have taken insurance away from millions and given it to (maybe) a couple hundred thousand. Democrats will have a hard time defending such a scheme.
And finally, there is no magic wand to cast a spell on young, healthy people who don’t want insurance, let alone high-end insurance. The exchanges, in all likelihood, will be skewed toward older and sicker people, which will push up costs and insurance company losses.
As we move into the new year, we will learn just how poorly HealthCare.gov communicated with carriers and hear from hordes of people dismayed to find out their old doctors and hospitals are not in the new Obamacare plan. Try convincing Americans that a plan that costs more and won’t let them keep their doctor is “better.”
The Obama team would like us to compare Obamacare now to Obamacare on Oct. 1, which is screwy when you think about it. The standard is not whether it is better than the liberal nightmare of gross government incompetence, but whether it meets the promises made by this president and ushers in a new health-care system that is better than the old one. Meanwhile, the task for Republicans is not to prove Obamacare still is a fiasc, but to come up with a simpler, cheaper, less destructive health-care reform that is superior in tackling the problems (portability, access, cost) that Obamacare was supposed to address.