The PJ Tatler

MissionAccomplished.gov

Today is the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline for Healthcare.gov to be “fixed.”

After initially promising a complete fix of the broken Web site by “the end of November,” the White House has incrementally lowered expectations, moved the goalposts and backpedaled on earlier promises as the depth and intractability of the site’s problems became apparent during November’s “tech surge.”

But the deadline itself could not be moved because of unchangeable schedules built into the Affordable Care Act — the most significant being that everyone in the nation is now required by law to have health insurance by January 1, 2014. Healthcare.gov — the only place where the federal subsidies could be obtained to offset the new sky-high insurance plans — had to be working by December, or Obamacare would collapse under the weight of tens of millions of people breaking the law through no fault of their own.

So the administration had absolutely no choice but to declare victory today and deem Healthcare.gov to be sufficiently “fixed” for them to claim that they kept their promises and met the deadline:

HealthCare.gov team claims victory: ‘We have met the goal’

The Obama administration claimed victory Sunday for making HealthCare.gov workable for the vast majority of users….

But even during their victory dance itself they were still moving the goalposts and backpedaling further:

The agency that oversees HealthCare.gov said “we believe we have met the goal” of making the system navigable for most people, but cautioned that more problems may lie ahead.

“Dramatic progress has been made,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated in a report released Sunday morning. “[But] there is more work to be done to continue to improve and enhance the website.”

Administration officials acknowledge that there are more errors to fix with HealthCare.gov. The severity of these issues is unknown, and it is possible that some have yet to be discovered.

“As with any web project, there is not a magic moment [for completion], but a process of continual improvement over time,” CMS communications director Julie Bataille said Sunday.

The problem for the administration is that they moved the goalposts so often over the previous five weeks that they have already lost the messaging war.

One is reminded of the “Mission Accomplished” gaffe which many pundits now see as the PR snafu which began the unraveling of the Bush administration: Shortly after the successful 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush appeared on an aircraft carrier to give a speech to the troops, and behind him was a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.” In truth, the specific mission of invading Iraq, overthrowing the government and occupying the country had been accomplished — but over the subsequent months it became clear that quelling the Iraqi insurgency was far from accomplished, and that the war had just begun. Thus the moment became an iconic symbol of a broken presidential promise.

And so today’s declaration of victory over rebellious html code will come back to haunt Obama for the rest of his term.

Why?

I list five reasons on the next page.

First: The Web site isn’t really fixed. It’s still rife with glitches and problems.

Second: The “front end” user experience may be improved, but the back end apparently still spews out garbled data to the insurers, rendering the whole process useless.

Third: Many keys features and aspects of the site (actual payments to insurers; small business signups; etc.) have now been jettisoned as too problematic and complicated to repair in so short a time, so the site which is now “fixed” is a pale shadow of the site which was launched two months ago.

Fourth: The American public recognizes a liar; but they also recognize a fudger, someone who doesn’t exactly lie overtly but instead changes the terms of a statement retroactively in order to pave the way for a future violation of a vow. And in one sense a fudger is even worse than a liar, because at least a liar is making a testable statement; a fudger tries to weasel his way out of anything, and won’t even acknowledge a lie when caught red-handed. America hate fudgers.

Fifth (and most importantly): The Web site is actually not the real problem with the ACA. The malfunctioning Web site only served to mask deeper and more fundamental issues at the heart of the law. To the extent that Healthcare.gov is “working” better, it will only serve to increase the number of people confronting sticker shock and worse plans and privacy violations and a growing resentment of the government laying waste to the health insurance industry.

December 1 is the day Healthcare.gov became MissionAccomplished.gov.

Nothing has been accomplished except a complete destruction of President Obama’s credibility.