Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2013/ 7 Mar-Cheshvan, 5774
Train wreck: The Obamacare rollout
By Rich Lowry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | ‘I’m not yet ready to be tsar,” Nicholas II reportedly said in 1894 when his predecessor died. “I know nothing of the business of ruling.”
The tsarina of Obamacare, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, must know how he felt. Given the keys to the kingdom of American health care by the sweeping 2010 law, she appears to have dropped them somewhere and is fumbling to pick them back up.
The rollout of Obamacare has been so disastrous that even “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart was plainly mystified and unconvinced when Sebelius came on his show the other day to offer soothing explanations and reassurances. Stewart gently expressed his frustration that there is “a level of incompetence that is larger than what it should be,” and after pressing her on why the individual mandate can’t be delayed, said after the interview was over, “I still don’t understand why individuals have to sign up but businesses don’t.”
Nancy Pelosi infamously said that we had to pass the law to find out what’s in it. But the then-House speaker erroneously assumed, evidently, that people would be able to get onto the government-run exchanges created by the law. So far the law’s implementation has been as ugly as its passage.
Judging by the haphazard rollout — incomprehensible error messages have been the norm, and the federal website has had to be taken offline several times — you’d guess that this was a back-burner project for the Obama administration, or the start-date for the exchanges had been sprung on it a few weeks ago. Of course, it is the president’s most cherished initiative, and his team has had more than three years to get the exchanges up and running.
Imagine the chaos if this were something the administration cared about less. The conservative trope used to be that Americans shouldn’t want health care delivered by the people who run the post office. The new conservative trope should be that Americans shouldn’t want health care delivered by the people who built HealthCare.gov.
Last week, Chad Henderson achieved instant media celebrity by claiming to have signed up for Obamacare on the federal exchange. So desperate were reporters to find someone who had managed this unlikely feat that they flocked to Henderson for color and background about his amazing experience.
It turned out that Henderson, an Organizing for America volunteer, was the Cory Booker of the federal health care exchange, peddling a mediagenic story that didn’t quite check out. He hadn’t really signed up, although he maintained that he had completed an application. Perhaps that should have been considered accomplishment enough.
How many people sign up for insurance on the exchanges and what kind of people (young or old, sick or healthy) are central to the future of the law. But administration officials won’t say how many people have enrolled. This is either because they do know and are too embarrassed to say. Or perhaps the system is so dysfunctional it is genuinely impossible to determine.
The website problems are the result, according to the administration, of overwhelming volume. Experts disagree. CBS quoted a sympathetic programmer named Luke Chung observing that “it wasn’t designed well, it wasn’t implemented well and it looks like nobody tested it,” adding, “I would be ashamed and embarrassed if my organization delivered something like that.”
Obama officials can’t say they weren’t warned. Actually, they probably can say that — it just wouldn’t be true, according to press accounts. The Washington Post cited two allies of the administration who “said they approached White House officials this year to raise concerns that the federal exchange was not ready to launch. In both cases, Obama officials assured them there was no cause for alarm.”
President Barack Obama and his team have repeatedly compared Obamacare’s “glitches” to those of the new Apple operating system. But Steve Jobs was a famously demanding and exacting boss. It’s hard to imagine him tolerating the maddening constraints of operating in a federal environment. If he had run Apple like HHS, it would have been the best thing ever to happen to Blackberry.
The more apt comparison might be to the FBI, which had an epic years-long struggle to upgrade its computer system, beset by software meltdowns and cost overruns.
It is true that successes can have rocky starts. The invasion of Normandy, the Manhattan Project and the space program all had “glitches.” Obamacare is like none of those other things.
Presumably, the administration will eventually be able to make its website work, since it doesn’t involve a radically new technology; people have sold insurance on websites before. The more fundamental question is whether the larger project is sustainable when the exchanges need young and healthy people to sign up, at the same time they will have to pay sharply more under Obamacare.
The San Jose Mercury News did a story on premium shock. It quoted one Cindy Vinson, an Obamacare supporter, who was disconcerted to learn that she will have to pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy. “Of course, I want people to have health care,” she said. “I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”
She might not have realized it because the president of the United States never mentions it, even though explaining how Obamacare will work has been one of his main rhetorical priorities for years. Somehow, he never quite gets around to the part about some premiums going up, which for people forced to pay more will probably be the most salient feature of the law.
But, hey, what possibly could go wrong?
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© 2012 King Features Syndicate