Despite Three-and-a-Half Years to Prep Obamacare, A Fiasco Takes Shape
The best clue that the initial open enrollment period for Obamacare's health insurance exchanges is destined to be a bureaucratic nightmare which will fail virtually every benchmark came on Saturday morning. Hadas Gold and Kyle Cheney at Politico, two advocates posing as reporters, all but begged the press to avoid "any rush judgments (which) could have a big impact on public opinion of the law" during its critical first few days. They described administration officials as "pleading with reporters to avoid being seduced into treating every technical snafu as a catastrophic failure."
I don't see why the Politico pair or the Obama administration should be all that worried. A small number of local and regional reporters may balk at drinking the "all is well" Kool-Aid if the foul-ups are sufficiently blatant and visible, but the nation's establishment press has already shown its bonafides. (Though in 2006 under George W. Bush, they didn't hesitate to dwell for months on problems in the rollout of Medicare Part D, which were in retrospect relatively minor.) The national press is vested in the current venture's success, and perhaps even less likely to acknowledge serious complications and failure than certain Obama administration officials will be in unguarded moments.
The facts, whatever the PR turns out to be, are that the administration and the press have failed Obamacare tests for three-and-a-half years. Admittedly, they have had assistance from the law's opponents, who have inexplicably failed to highlight easily understood and financially crippling design flaws which -- if conveyed to the public -- would have caused the program's meager popularity to crater.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has had since March 2010 to prepare for open enrollment's October 2013 rollout. Besides churning out thousands of pages of regulations, what have she and her army been doing?
Someone performing as Sebelius has in the private sector would have been fired at least a year ago, when it become obvious that her implementation plan -- having already missed critical deadlines almost two years ago -- was still hopelessly behind.
However, this would have been an admission of failure during an election year.
Instead, Sebelius and the administration unilaterally, and illegally, delayed imposing the employer mandate requiring companies to cover "full-time" employees -- defined as any employee who works an average of 30 hours per week -- for one year. The political motivation behind this cop-out is so transparent, one wonders if the delay wasn't hard-coded in the plan. There has been no change in the individual mandate, which requires individuals and families to have health insurance coverage beginning next year or face a fine. So the employer mandate delay combined with the still-present individual mandate will force more Americans into the state health insurance exchanges. The administration is likely intent on making the process of undoing the exchanges as difficult as possible.
A responsible steward of taxpayer dollars would never have considered opening the exchanges in their current state of disarray.
Those seeking coverage at the exchanges must complete detailed and challenging online or paper applications on the "honor system." Needless to say -- except that we have to say it for the benefit of the administration, which is either hopelessly naive or deliberately causing an incurable catastrophe -- the likelihood of millions of errors, both unintentional and deliberate, is incredibly high. "Navigators," who are supposed to help applicants through the process and who will have access to all kinds of personal information, appear to be on a technical par with your average ACORN representative from back in the day, but are still not being subjected to criminal background checks.
Even those who manage not to put garbage in will still be getting garbage out: Obamacare's software "still can’t correctly calculate the amount of subsidies that an individual applicant is eligible for."
The press has certainly known about the bureaucracy's failure to execute for well over a year. Yet, with very rare exceptions, one will search in vain for coverage of the missed deadlines, internal control weaknesses, and emptied slush funds from the Associated Press, the New York Times, or the broadcast networks.
Obamacare has left a trail of false promises which would embarrass even Joe Isuzu: premiums for most participants will not be cheaper than a cell phone bill (especially mine, which is only $20); premiums in general won't be going down, they're going up; plans participants purchase -- thanks to yet another politically convenient delay -- will not have a cap on out-of-pocket costs. And the big lie, of course -- "if you like your health plan, you can keep it" -- is simply not so. Thousands of those who have had coverage in the individual health insurance market are either being told that they not longer do, or are facing exorbitant rate increases.
Obamacare is destroying the private individual market for health insurance by design, not accident.
Several months from now, barring a center-right media triumph we have no right to expect, Obamacare's failures won't be presented to low-information voters as failures by the press. Its cascading harm to the economy and employment will be blamed on ... something else.
At that point, I suspect that many of those who thought they could -- as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has frequently claimed -- tear out Obamacare "root and branch" after allowing its initial funding to take place will privately regret their choice of strategy.
But not nearly as much as will the vast majority of Americans.