Commentary Magazine


Topic: Healthcare.gov

Blaming the GOP for Being Right All Along

Spinning ObamaCare’s failures as blips or mere bumps in the road is no easy task for the administration and its defenders in the media. But it pales in comparison to the mountain Politico seeks to climb today: assigning blame to Republicans because they were right all along. To say the Politico piece goes off the rails would be inaccurate, because it would require the piece to have been on the rails to begin with.

The headline itself is something of a wonder: “GOP’s Obamacare fears come true.” The article is actually about the fact that the state health exchanges created under ObamaCare are failing at a disturbing rate and are being abandoned to the government, which is taking on their responsibilities and simply expanding the federal structure. In other words, the article is about the GOP’s ObamaCare predictions coming true. But the article’s more serious offense is its attempt to pin a fair share of the blame on Republicans.

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Spinning ObamaCare’s failures as blips or mere bumps in the road is no easy task for the administration and its defenders in the media. But it pales in comparison to the mountain Politico seeks to climb today: assigning blame to Republicans because they were right all along. To say the Politico piece goes off the rails would be inaccurate, because it would require the piece to have been on the rails to begin with.

The headline itself is something of a wonder: “GOP’s Obamacare fears come true.” The article is actually about the fact that the state health exchanges created under ObamaCare are failing at a disturbing rate and are being abandoned to the government, which is taking on their responsibilities and simply expanding the federal structure. In other words, the article is about the GOP’s ObamaCare predictions coming true. But the article’s more serious offense is its attempt to pin a fair share of the blame on Republicans.

Here’s Politico:

Liberals wanted a national enrollment system under Obamacare.

They might just get it.

Right now, 36 states rely on HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange, to enroll people in health coverage. At least two more states are opting in next year, with a few others likely to follow. Only two states are trying to get out.

That’s precisely the opposite of the Affordable Care Act’s original intent: 50 exchanges run by 50 states.

So what happened? Here’s the brief explanation from the authors leading into the article’s broader discussion of policy (my emphasis):

The federal option was supposed to be a limited and temporary fallback. But a shift to a bigger, more permanent Washington-controlled system is instead underway — without preparation, funding or even public discussion about what a national exchange covering millions of Americans means for the future of U.S. health care. It’s coming about because intransigent Republicans shunned state exchanges, and ambitious Democrats bungled them.

There are more such phrases attempting to blame Republicans, though if you stick around and read through, you’ll actually find out what really happened:

In theory, states can still tap into virtually unlimited funding to create exchanges. But a number of state officials say the administration has signaled that it doesn’t want to keep pouring millions into broken state systems. …

Nevada in mid-May became the latest to scrap its system and opt into HealthCare.gov. A few days earlier, Oregon had bailed on its $250 million exchange. Massachusetts is still trying to salvage its exchange, but it’s also laying the groundwork to join HealthCare.gov.

Hawaii and Minnesota both insist they are moving ahead with their underperforming exchanges; skeptics predict they’ll have to jettison them and join the federal system sooner rather than later. And some small states with high-performing exchanges may have trouble keeping them over the long haul as federal financial support ends.

There it is: Democrats massively bungled the exchanges and the federal government abandoned them–or at least signaled its intention to do so. ObamaCare was a poorly designed system of diktats from Washington. It is really quite inane to imply that the state exchanges were somehow imposing significant limits on federal control of health care. They weren’t. They were simply ways for the Obama administration to saddle what they hoped would be a bipartisan group of governors with a share of the costs and headaches of the federal program.

Republicans were too smart for that, but Democrats were either unquestioningly loyal to the administration or didn’t really understand how health care works (the latter is probably true of most of them, as it is surely true of the White House). Republicans argued, correctly, that the federal government was still in the process of adding rules and regulations to ObamaCare and that it would be irresponsible and not especially honest of them to devote their resources to enabling arbitrary government.

They argued, correctly, that the Obama administration’s handling of the health-care reform law was setting the state exchanges up for failure. They argued, correctly, that the state exchanges were “state exchanges” largely in name only. And they argued, correctly, that the federal government could not be trusted to provide unlimited funds going forward, and that the price tag for keeping the state exchanges would be higher than anticipated.

What has happened is not really either side’s fears coming true. For the right, it’s the confirmation of what ObamaCare always was and would be. For the left, it’s an unanticipated series of disasters because Democrats ignored all the evidence and information that didn’t fit their narrative. The Politico article adopts the canard that Republicans are partly to blame for not sharing in the Democrats’ failures or saving the left from its own ignorance. It’s no more persuasive today than when Democrats first began trying to fool the press into echoing their panicked talking points.

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Sebelius’s Dangerous Legacy of Incompetence and Deception

President Obama’s cheerleaders like to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. In most respects, this is a travesty that both inflates the meager accomplishments of our 44th president and demeans the heroic achievements of our 16th. But in seeking the right moment to dump Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after her shocking failures during the ObamaCare rollout, the president did take a page out of Lincoln’s handbook.

When Lincoln was thinking about the right moment to unveil the Emancipation Proclamation he told his Cabinet that it had to wait until after the Union won a victory over heretofore-ascendant rebel armies. Though the victory he seized upon for the announcement—the battle of Antietam—was really a bloody draw from which the Confederate army was allowed to escape, it was enough to provide cover for a great and historic act that was intensely controversial at the time. Similarly, President Obama knew that the necessary transition at HHS would have to wait until after the storm of criticism that had come down on Sebelius during the ObamaCare rollout had subsided. But after the administration was able to pump up the number of those enrolled in the program to the 7 million figure by the April 1 deadline, the president declared a victory in the battle over the unpopular program that was far shakier than even the Union’s claims after Antietam.

In announcing Sebelius’s departure and the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to succeed her at a White House pep rally today, the president continued the pretense that all is well is with ObamaCare and that Sebelius’s tenure at HHS was one of success achieved over immense odds because of the enrollment of over 7 million people in the program. But rarely has any single public official done more to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of government to function than Kathleen Sebelius. Her incapacity to manage a huge federal bureaucracy was never exactly a secret prior to the October 1, 2013 rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, but from that date on, Sebelius’s out-of-touch leadership style gave new meaning to the term clueless. Her departure for the more competent Burwell is a relief even for those who oppose the president’s signature health-care legislation. But what she leaves behind will always stand as a warning to both presidents and their appointees about the damage they can do.

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President Obama’s cheerleaders like to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. In most respects, this is a travesty that both inflates the meager accomplishments of our 44th president and demeans the heroic achievements of our 16th. But in seeking the right moment to dump Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after her shocking failures during the ObamaCare rollout, the president did take a page out of Lincoln’s handbook.

When Lincoln was thinking about the right moment to unveil the Emancipation Proclamation he told his Cabinet that it had to wait until after the Union won a victory over heretofore-ascendant rebel armies. Though the victory he seized upon for the announcement—the battle of Antietam—was really a bloody draw from which the Confederate army was allowed to escape, it was enough to provide cover for a great and historic act that was intensely controversial at the time. Similarly, President Obama knew that the necessary transition at HHS would have to wait until after the storm of criticism that had come down on Sebelius during the ObamaCare rollout had subsided. But after the administration was able to pump up the number of those enrolled in the program to the 7 million figure by the April 1 deadline, the president declared a victory in the battle over the unpopular program that was far shakier than even the Union’s claims after Antietam.

In announcing Sebelius’s departure and the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to succeed her at a White House pep rally today, the president continued the pretense that all is well is with ObamaCare and that Sebelius’s tenure at HHS was one of success achieved over immense odds because of the enrollment of over 7 million people in the program. But rarely has any single public official done more to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of government to function than Kathleen Sebelius. Her incapacity to manage a huge federal bureaucracy was never exactly a secret prior to the October 1, 2013 rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, but from that date on, Sebelius’s out-of-touch leadership style gave new meaning to the term clueless. Her departure for the more competent Burwell is a relief even for those who oppose the president’s signature health-care legislation. But what she leaves behind will always stand as a warning to both presidents and their appointees about the damage they can do.

In fairness to Sebelius, it must be noted that she was not the architect of ObamaCare. The president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi deserve principle credit for the monstrosity that emerged from Congress in 2010. But her hands-off management led to disaster as she failed to alert the president to the fact that her department was simply nowhere near ready to launch the law in October. The result was the infamous Healthcare.gov website that made a laughingstock of Sebelius but also called into question the basic competence of the administration.

Of course, the real problem with ObamaCare was never the “glitchy” website but the entire concept of a government takeover of health care that would hurt as many, if not more, people than it helped. Yet Sebelius’s foolish confidence and stonewalling of Congress about the disaster will forever stick in the public consciousness as a symbolic of what can go wrong when a career politician is asked to do the job only a technocrat can deal with.

But there’s more to Sebelius’s legacy than incompetence. By refusing to tell the truth about how many of those being counted as enrollees (including the 20 percent of those who signed up on the website but never paid for their coverage) and by delaying much of the more unpopular aspects of the rollout until after this year’s midterm elections, Sebelius not only deepened the cynicism about the law but further undermined the credibility of the government. President Obama claimed today that the “final score speaks for itself” in terms of what Sebelius accomplished, but the real pain inflicted by this program and the massive dislocation in the health-care system as well as job losses and skyrocketing insurance costs that will be felt in the years to come will always be associated with Sebelius.

It should also be noted that by imposing an HHS mandate to force all employers, even those with religious objections, to pay for free contraception and abortion drugs (a provision that is not in the text of ObamaCare but was instead promulgated by her department), Sebelius struck a formidable blow against religious liberty that can only be repaired by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What occurred this year was no victory for health care, President Obama, or Kathleen Sebelius. But her legacy of incompetence and deception will live on long after her departure or even that of her boss.

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Deadline Is ObamaCare’s “Mission Accomplished” Moment

It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

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It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

It should be acknowledged that the pictures of people standing on line waiting to talk about getting ObamaCare and the reports of large numbers visiting the website or trying to call in to get the insurance sounds like a vindication of the law or at least of the all-out enrollment push being conducted by the president and the rest of his administration. But the fact remains that merely signing onto the website and creating an account is not the same thing as actually buying the product. If by the end of the day, the administration is claiming that they have met or come close to the seven million enrollments it wanted, it must be remembered that this number must be reduced by at least 20 percent to account for the vast numbers who haven’t completed the purchase and may never do so.

Just as deceptive is the fact that among the millions being counted as happy ObamaCare customers are a huge number of Americans who already had health insurance they liked but lost it as a result of the passage of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. They are now stuck with coverage that is likely more expensive and which contains provisions they didn’t want. As a New York Times front-page feature that was, no doubt, intended to tout the law’s benefits in Kentucky—a rare example where a state exchange appears to be working well—illustrated, administration triumphalism has little connection to the reality faced by many of those affected by the president’s signature health-care law. Including those Americans who are the big losers in the passage of this law as being part of the supposed flood of those who need and want ObamaCare is the ultimate in double counting.

No matter what the numbers of those enrolled actually turn out to be, without millions more young and healthy Americans included in the plan, it will be a financial disaster and force the government to bail out the insurance companies. That will be unfortunate. But if those more profitable young and healthy customers don’t listen to the president’s pleas, who can blame them? The product that is being shoved down their throats is inferior, costly, and a bad deal to boot. With pre-existing conditions no longer a bar to insurance coverage there is no longer much reason for those who are less likely to get sick to enroll before they are placed in the position of needing insurance. And with much of the plan’s provisions being postponed or otherwise delayed in order to lessen the pain to the nation and increase the Democrats’ chances of success in November, there is no way of knowing just how unpopular this law will be when all is said and done.

It is entirely possible that we will look back on today’s deadline and administration celebrations about enrollment as Obama’s version of George W. Bush’s infamous “mission accomplished” moment after Iraq. Democrats who dream that today’s numbers will get them off the hook in the midterms should think again.

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The Obamacare Disaster Is Now Undeniable

The Washington Post has the bombshell story of the month: “A pair of surveys released on Thursday suggest that just one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private health plans through the new marketplace have signed up for one—and that about half of uninsured adults has looked for information on the online exchanges or plans to look.” Well, and there goes the famed rationale for the health-care law—which was to bring the people, numbering anywhere between 31 million to 47 million depending on how and whom you count, without insurance into the system.

Why aren’t they signing up? First off, there will always be people who choose to live on the margins in some way or other. They don’t want to be in the system, they’re paranoid about the system, they keep their money in their mattress and lots of cans in the basement. But mostly, people aren’t signing up now and haven’t had health care before because of the cost: “Of people who are uninsured and do not intend to get a health plan through the marketplaces, the biggest factor is that they believe they could not afford one.”

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The Washington Post has the bombshell story of the month: “A pair of surveys released on Thursday suggest that just one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private health plans through the new marketplace have signed up for one—and that about half of uninsured adults has looked for information on the online exchanges or plans to look.” Well, and there goes the famed rationale for the health-care law—which was to bring the people, numbering anywhere between 31 million to 47 million depending on how and whom you count, without insurance into the system.

Why aren’t they signing up? First off, there will always be people who choose to live on the margins in some way or other. They don’t want to be in the system, they’re paranoid about the system, they keep their money in their mattress and lots of cans in the basement. But mostly, people aren’t signing up now and haven’t had health care before because of the cost: “Of people who are uninsured and do not intend to get a health plan through the marketplaces, the biggest factor is that they believe they could not afford one.”

Since October 1 of last year, the coverage of the Obamacare disaster has centered on the technical catastrophe of the healthcare.gov and the transitional problems afflicting insurers, employers, and the insured alike—and more recently the administration’s desperate efforts to delay the penalties and controls imposed by the law to limit the political fallout. It is safe to say, though, that this is the worst possible news for Obama and his people. They have thrown the entire health-care system into unprecedented chaos for a population that is, it seems, staying as far away from it as possible. Little has been fixed; much has been made far worse; nothing makes sense; and good luck to the Democrats who have to defend their votes for this colossal cock-up in November.

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ObamaCare Supporters Swear They Can Be Trusted This Time

In the last couple of days, the political press has introduced us to the Democrats’ emerging strategy for the upcoming midterm congressional elections. They will be running as the arsonists who can be trusted to put out their fire. They are being less explicit about the first part, of course. The New York Times has a story that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance. It begins with a campaign ad by Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona trumpeting the fact that when the Healthcare.gov website sputtered out of the gate, she wagged her finger at it.

But how did that website come about? It was an important component of ObamaCare, of course. And how did ObamaCare come about? Well, you’d have to go elsewhere for that information; Ann Kirkpatrick treats the disastrous health-care reform law as if it were some sort of anonymous cyberattack. In fact, Democrats passed ObamaCare over the objections of all Republicans and some Democrats. Kirkpatrick should know: she was one of the votes in favor of ObamaCare. Ann Kirkpatrick, then, helped unleash this horrendous law on her constituents.

But Kirkpatrick isn’t the only one. The Times itself seeks to avoid the messy topic of why the country is suffering from ObamaCare in the first place. The whole article talks about Democrats running on an agenda of “fixing” elements of the law, but only buried late in the story do we get a hint about the culprits. The call is coming from inside the House:

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In the last couple of days, the political press has introduced us to the Democrats’ emerging strategy for the upcoming midterm congressional elections. They will be running as the arsonists who can be trusted to put out their fire. They are being less explicit about the first part, of course. The New York Times has a story that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance. It begins with a campaign ad by Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona trumpeting the fact that when the Healthcare.gov website sputtered out of the gate, she wagged her finger at it.

But how did that website come about? It was an important component of ObamaCare, of course. And how did ObamaCare come about? Well, you’d have to go elsewhere for that information; Ann Kirkpatrick treats the disastrous health-care reform law as if it were some sort of anonymous cyberattack. In fact, Democrats passed ObamaCare over the objections of all Republicans and some Democrats. Kirkpatrick should know: she was one of the votes in favor of ObamaCare. Ann Kirkpatrick, then, helped unleash this horrendous law on her constituents.

But Kirkpatrick isn’t the only one. The Times itself seeks to avoid the messy topic of why the country is suffering from ObamaCare in the first place. The whole article talks about Democrats running on an agenda of “fixing” elements of the law, but only buried late in the story do we get a hint about the culprits. The call is coming from inside the House:

Moreover, not all congressional Democrats are talking about the health care law in their advertising or their routine stump speeches — and even some of those hoping to explain their support are being far from laudatory. The commercial for Ms. Kirkpatrick, the Arizona Democrat, by the House Majority PAC refers to the “disastrous health care website,” as does a spot the group did for Representative Joe Garcia, Democrat of Florida.

If you blinked, you might have missed it. Twenty-one paragraphs into the story we get a note about Democrats “hoping to explain their support.” Yes, ObamaCare was in fact an act of Congress. And that is what complicates this Democratic strategy. In order to confront the manifold problems in ObamaCare, they have to acknowledge its existence. And its existence is thanks to them.

And it’s not just voting for the law in the first place. The Times story also talks about the predicament facing Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who, thanks to the shady “Louisiana Purchase,” provided a crucial vote for the bill. The Times mentions that her ad campaign will show her taking action, for example with “legislation she sponsored that would allow individuals to keep their insurance plans even if the plans did not meet the minimum requirements of the health law.”

Why can’t individuals keep their insurance? It’s not just the law’s regulations: an effort was made in late 2010 to alleviate that consequence of ObamaCare and allow folks to keep their insurance. Mary Landrieu was instrumental in defeating it and keeping ObamaCare as punitive as possible. What has changed? The public outrage and the fumbled rollout of the health-care exchanges, certainly. But other Democrats, as the Times reports, thought if they ignored the voters they would just go away:

“Part of what we learned in 2010 is that this is a real issue of concern to voters and you can’t dodge it, you have to take it on, and I think Democrats are much more ready and willing to do that in 2014,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who has done surveys for Democrats on the law. “We certainly have enough evidence now that this is not a fight you can win if you are in a defensive crouch.”

In one sense, it’s encouraging that Democrats are kinda-sorta confronting reality. But in another sense, this follows the classic storyline of American liberalism. Progressives animated by ideology, ignorant of policy and economics, and filled with contempt for the voters institute leftist policy. The policy is, unsurprisingly, a wreck. As others attempt to clean up their mess, liberals intervene to promise to fix what they’ve done, usually through yet more state coercion.

The arsonists promise that this time they can be trusted with the matches and lighter fluid. If that’s the best the Democrats have to go on, ObamaCare may have done more harm to their brand than even their opponents expected.

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ObamaCare Deadline Desperation

An axiom of humor is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to satirize something that is already ridiculous. Thus, it is hard to think of a humorous way to send up the fact that today the administration extended the deadline for enrollment in ObamaCare for the second consecutive day. As the New York Times reports:

The original deadline was Dec. 15 for people to sign up for coverage that takes effect in January; it was later extended by eight days. On Monday, the White House added a 24-hour grace period, to 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.

Then on Tuesday, in another bid to expand coverage, the administration provided details of a “special enrollment period” for people who would miss the deadline.

“If you weren’t able to enroll in an insurance plan by Dec. 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov, you still may be able to get coverage that starts Jan. 1,” the administration told visitors to the website. “Even though we have passed the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, we don’t want you to miss out if you’ve been trying to enroll.

Though the administration claimed the new deadlines were the result of heavy traffic on the infamous HealthCare.gov website, the real reasons for the changes are very different from the upbeat spin being fed to the media. With the figures for enrollment in ObamaCare only a fraction of not only what they originally predicted but also falling far short of the volume needed for the scheme to be economically viable, the administration is desperate to pump them up by any means necessary.

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An axiom of humor is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to satirize something that is already ridiculous. Thus, it is hard to think of a humorous way to send up the fact that today the administration extended the deadline for enrollment in ObamaCare for the second consecutive day. As the New York Times reports:

The original deadline was Dec. 15 for people to sign up for coverage that takes effect in January; it was later extended by eight days. On Monday, the White House added a 24-hour grace period, to 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.

Then on Tuesday, in another bid to expand coverage, the administration provided details of a “special enrollment period” for people who would miss the deadline.

“If you weren’t able to enroll in an insurance plan by Dec. 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov, you still may be able to get coverage that starts Jan. 1,” the administration told visitors to the website. “Even though we have passed the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, we don’t want you to miss out if you’ve been trying to enroll.

Though the administration claimed the new deadlines were the result of heavy traffic on the infamous HealthCare.gov website, the real reasons for the changes are very different from the upbeat spin being fed to the media. With the figures for enrollment in ObamaCare only a fraction of not only what they originally predicted but also falling far short of the volume needed for the scheme to be economically viable, the administration is desperate to pump them up by any means necessary.

Saving face is obviously at the core of the decision-making process with regard to the deadlines. Even if the website is more functional today than it was after the disastrous rollout of the new law, the problems at the national level as well as with some of the state exchanges are undermining the faith of Democrats that somehow the president’s signature legislation will prove popular. In order to maintain that faith, they need to try to somehow inflate the total number of those enrolled in the plans.

One by one the administration has set back the implementation of various aspects of ObamaCare. As we noted here on Friday, the pileup of postponements has given the impression that this big-government scheme is unraveling. Indeed, every such announcement adds to the notion that what is happening is not just a delay but a de facto repeal of the law, piece by ungainly piece.

The problem with ObamaCare isn’t the website or even the looming deadlines that cannot be extended indefinitely. Even when people log on to the website what they find are not the high-quality and affordable insurance they were promised by the president and his cheerleaders but plans with high deductibles that often force consumers to purchase coverage they don’t need or want. With millions of Americans being forced off their plans by the various ObamaCare mandates and with those who are compelled to purchase the new plans encountering sticker shock, optimistic liberals who are hoping for an end to the negative stories and bad feedback are in for a shock.

The deadline shifts were a sign of desperation on the part of an administration that knows it has committed itself to an ongoing fiasco. What will follow in 2014 as more Americans realize what the president has saddled them with will be far worse.

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Is Anything the White House Said About ObamaCare True?

Keeping up to date on all the ObamaCare revelations, one could be forgiven for wondering: Is anything the administration has said about the health-care reform plan true? The promises underpinning the passage of the law certainly weren’t true. But there seems to be an almost compulsive nature to the denial of reality.

The latest example comes from the Washington Post, which reports that since the early enrollment numbers on the ObamaCare exchanges are far below their targets–as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday–the administration has made a decision on how to present those numbers to the public: they will essentially just make them up. They will be based on a true story, as movie taglines often say. But that’s the closest they’ll get to the truth if the administration pursues this tactic:

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Keeping up to date on all the ObamaCare revelations, one could be forgiven for wondering: Is anything the administration has said about the health-care reform plan true? The promises underpinning the passage of the law certainly weren’t true. But there seems to be an almost compulsive nature to the denial of reality.

The latest example comes from the Washington Post, which reports that since the early enrollment numbers on the ObamaCare exchanges are far below their targets–as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday–the administration has made a decision on how to present those numbers to the public: they will essentially just make them up. They will be based on a true story, as movie taglines often say. But that’s the closest they’ll get to the truth if the administration pursues this tactic:

The fight over how to define the new health law’s success is coming down to one question: Who counts as an Obamacare enrollee?

Health insurance plans only count subscribers as enrolled in a health plan once they’ve submited  a payment. That is when the carrier sends out a member card and begins paying doctor bills.

When the Obama administration releases health law enrollment figures later this week, though, it will use a more expansive definition. It will count people who have purchased a plan as well as  those who have a plan sitting in their online shopping cart but have not yet paid.

“In the data that will be released this week, ‘enrollment’ will measure people who have filled out an application and selected a qualified health plan in the marketplace,” said an administration official, who requested anonymity to frankly describe the methodology.

There are a couple of aspects to this that would be hilarious if it weren’t about the federal government using your money to wreck your health care. You have to love terming the definition of an enrollee as “expansive.” That is quite generous. The Obama administration’s definition of an enrollee is not so much “expansive” as it is false. We can (and should) dispense with the Orwellian language. The administration will count those who have purchased a plan and those who haven’t purchased a plan as enrollees.

It’s a scam, and it starts to get creepy after a while, as indicated by the other darkly humorous part in that write-up, in the anonymous administration official’s quote about the enrollee definition. It’s unclear whether the scare quotes around “enrollment” were put there by the source (say, in an email to the reporter) or by the Post. Either way, the quotes indicate that the Department of Health and Human Services has hired Inigo Montoya: the government doesn’t think that word means what you think it means.

In fact, it means whatever the government decides it means. It’s a truly postmodern health-care system now.

Conservatives have long been concerned that the expansion of Medicaid and the onerous regulations put on insurance companies would crowd the private sphere out of health care. But at least with regard to fraud, the government has invited plenty of competition from the private sector.

CBS reports that “the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website’s security. Those failures could lead to identity theft among buying insurance. The project manager testified to congressional investigators behind closed doors, but CBS News has obtained the first look at a partial transcript of his testimony.”

The project manager, Henry Chao, testified that he was never shown an internal memo warning of the security risks to the federal website. That memo gave deadlines, apparently, of mid-2014 and 2015 to have those security weaknesses fixed. So if you use the federal health-care website to sign up for insurance, your personal information may–at the earliest, and we all know how the government treats deadlines–be secure in a couple of years. Possibly.

If you don’t want to feed your personal information directly to identity thieves, you can use a government “navigator” to put your private information at great risk. As John Fund reports on James O’Keefe’s latest string of investigations, the government’s health-care “navigators” can provide you will all sorts of technical support–they can help you defraud the government, or help you get defrauded yourself, whatever you’re in the mood for. The government is also relying on the efforts of groups like Enroll America, who seem to have wandered a bit from the purpose of their “enrollment” mission:

Enroll America, O’Keefe reports, appears to be sharing data and working directly with an explicitly political group called Battleground Texas, activities that he notes “are prohibited unless certain conditions are met.” Adrian Bell, the regional field director for Battleground Texas, proudly notes the group was “started by President Obama’s national field director” and is “dedicated to turning Texas blue.”

So your personal information is being processed by people who haven’t passed a background check into a computer system wide open to identity thieves and which will then be available to the group trying to win elections for Democrats. Oh, and those enrollment figures Kathleen Sebelius says the administration didn’t have? They had them.

Dishonesty from top to bottom. If you removed the fraud from ObamaCare, it’s unclear if there would be anything left.

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A President Who Only Cares About Politics

As Seth points out this morning, the development of the ObamaCare website had no one in over-all charge. As the Wall Street Journal today explains, there was one group in Bethesda, Maryland, drawing up specifications for the insurance marketplace, computer experts—who answered to different bosses—at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore building the software and hardware components, and political operatives in the White House often stalling important decisions until after the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, the president whose name is on the whole program was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until he read press reports that a debacle was underway after it launched October 1. It’s a good thing the president reads the newspapers for otherwise he’d not have a clue about anything the United States government, of which he is the chief executive, was doing.

You don’t need an MBA (which, by the way, George W. Bush had earned at Harvard) to know that someone has to be in charge of the development of a large, complex project if disaster is to be avoided. Armies need generals, and “unity of command,” to win battles.

But it gets worse. The main company hired (with a no-bid contract) to design the software is Canadian. Does the country that contains Silicon Valley not have a firm that could handle this project?

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As Seth points out this morning, the development of the ObamaCare website had no one in over-all charge. As the Wall Street Journal today explains, there was one group in Bethesda, Maryland, drawing up specifications for the insurance marketplace, computer experts—who answered to different bosses—at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore building the software and hardware components, and political operatives in the White House often stalling important decisions until after the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, the president whose name is on the whole program was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until he read press reports that a debacle was underway after it launched October 1. It’s a good thing the president reads the newspapers for otherwise he’d not have a clue about anything the United States government, of which he is the chief executive, was doing.

You don’t need an MBA (which, by the way, George W. Bush had earned at Harvard) to know that someone has to be in charge of the development of a large, complex project if disaster is to be avoided. Armies need generals, and “unity of command,” to win battles.

But it gets worse. The main company hired (with a no-bid contract) to design the software is Canadian. Does the country that contains Silicon Valley not have a firm that could handle this project?

According to Mark Steyn, the company, CGI, has a bit of a track record:

CGI is not a creative free spirit from Jersey City with an impressive mastery of Twitter, but a Canadian corporate behemoth. Indeed, CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique [Consultants in Management and Information processing]. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive. . . .

But it proved impossible to “improve” CFIS (the Canadian Firearms Information System). So CGI was hired to create an entirely new CFIS II, which would operate alongside CFIS I until the old system could be scrapped. CFIS II was supposed to go operational on January 9, 2003, but the January date got postponed to June, and 2003 to 2004, and $81 million was thrown at it before a new Conservative government scrapped the fiasco in 2007. Last year, the government of Ontario canceled another CGI registry that never saw the light of day — just for one disease, diabetes, and costing a mere $46 million.

Why would even the most managerially incompetent administration in history hire a firm with that sort of track record to handle its signature project? Well, call me cynical, but the Daily Caller has noted that the senior vice president of the company was a classmate of Michelle Obama at Princeton, and spent “Christmas with the Obamas” at the White House seven months after she got her job at CGI.

The administration is taking a beating to be sure. The Economist is calling them incompetent and even Ted Rall, the loony-left cartoonist, is calling “Obama and his gang of golfing buddies,” “idiots.” But the problem is, at its heart, that President Obama cares only about politics, rewarding his buddies, and the perks of power. The rest of the presidency just bores him.

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Healthcare.gov Isn’t First Botched Government Website

Beyond the acrimony and debates about the wisdom of ObamaCare, there is bipartisan recognition that the Healthcare.gov website has been a disaster. That the government spent $500 million developing the dysfunctional site compounds the scandal, which will be examined in coming days as representatives from the companies responsible testify in Congress later today.

That the government could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a dysfunctional website should not surprise. After all, it has done it once before. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Defense Department began investing in the Defense Travel System (DTS), a website which was to enable Defense Department travelers to book their flights, hotels, and rental cars online using pre-negotiated rates. It was supposed to save the government money since it would enable the government to cut out the middlemen otherwise aiding official travel.

By 2006, the government had spent $500 million on the system. Here is an assessment from the time, written by a young Josh Rogin:

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Beyond the acrimony and debates about the wisdom of ObamaCare, there is bipartisan recognition that the Healthcare.gov website has been a disaster. That the government spent $500 million developing the dysfunctional site compounds the scandal, which will be examined in coming days as representatives from the companies responsible testify in Congress later today.

That the government could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a dysfunctional website should not surprise. After all, it has done it once before. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Defense Department began investing in the Defense Travel System (DTS), a website which was to enable Defense Department travelers to book their flights, hotels, and rental cars online using pre-negotiated rates. It was supposed to save the government money since it would enable the government to cut out the middlemen otherwise aiding official travel.

By 2006, the government had spent $500 million on the system. Here is an assessment from the time, written by a young Josh Rogin:

The Defense Travel System has cost taxpayers almost $500 million in the past eight years. Lawmakers are vocal critics of the program, and many Defense Department executives, travel company officials and employees who are directed to use the system are dissatisfied with it… “It’s a fiasco,” said a senior DOD official who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic. Each ticket booked through DTS requires the intervention of a commercial travel agent instead of being the touchless transaction system that DOD wanted, the senior official said. The intervention creates added fees and prevents travelers from making timely changes to existing reservations. Senior-level DOD officials are the people most affected by the transaction problems because they often travel on short notice. “You have a very dissatisfied, very senior-level user base, but you can’t change it because of the political realities,” the senior official said. Those realities include the way DOD manages the program and the contractors’ role in travel transactions.

Over the intervening seven years, the system hasn’t gotten much better. I use it frequently when I travel on government projects and, on a good day, it’s like using Expedia.com on a Commodore 64. Many military commands have had to hire permanent employees simply to handle DTS problems. Let’s put aside that tickets I could get on Expedia for $900 have cost $4,400 through the system: that’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer money but it’s more the fault of the bureaucrats who negotiate the airlines’ government contracts. Government tickets can be cancelled and changed without penalty, but simple quirks cost money: Several times I have changed or cancelled flights, only to notice that DTS rebooked the flights but charged for both new and old. Had I not pointed this out to DTS managers, the government simply would have paid the airlines double. Likewise, the DTS one-touch cancellation on travel authorizations still does not work.

Other problems are irritants: No one has updated realistic taxi fares limits in years, so what DTS allows for a taxi from Dulles airport to my home in suburban Maryland doesn’t conform to reality and regularly needs a supervisor’s override. Part of the reason it takes a huge time investment to book through DTS or file vouchers is that the system crashes inexplicably and saves work only periodically. True, unlike Healthcare.gov, DTS works at least 70 percent of the time, so I guess I should count my blessings. But I’m sure that DTS customers who read this blog can chime in with their own stories—I’ve seldom met a Defense Department employee who doesn’t have horror stories.

Why is government contracting so bad, and why does the government always settle for such sub-standard products? Here the problems are deeper. My colleague William Greenwalt last week had an insightful essay in the Wall Street Journal examining one problem, “The lunacy of fairness in government contracting.” He explains:

Earlier this year, in one of its first forays into government contracting, Amazon was awarded a large cloud-computing contract from the Central Intelligence Agency. However, IBM, one of the losing contractors, protested the award. The lawyers circled the wagons, and the Government Accountability Office overturned the contract award. What was Amazon’s mistake? It had the audacity to propose something better than what the government had originally requested. The CIA, to its credit, recognized the better solution and went for it. Isn’t that what the procurement process is supposed to do—get the best solution? Not in the Mad Hatter world of government contracting…

Healthcare.gov is a disaster. In the private sector, heads would roll if anyone spent a half billion dollars for such a dysfunctional product. That the government has now done the same thing twice, however, suggests the true fix must go beyond political posturing, and must begin to focus on some serious systematic reform.

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ObamaCare’s Self-Sabotage

Earlier today Jonathan tackled the accusation from the left that conservatives rooting for ObamaCare to collapse under its own weight were being disloyal. Indeed, there has been a broad attempt to force dual responsibility for the law by instituting a “good Samaritan law” of the sort that landed the Seinfeld klatch in jail in the show’s finale for laughing at the realtime misfortune of others. Here is Dana Milbank’s unconvincing plaint:

Their outrage has not been softened by the knowledge that the bulk of the sign-up problems has been in the states led by critics of the law who refused to cooperate with the federal government on the rollout. Essentially, Republicans are complaining about flaws created in part by their own sabotage.

When the spin is this laughable, you know the truth must be devastating. The law provided the states the choice of setting up their own exchanges. Those who didn’t voluntarily do what the Obama administration wanted them to are apparently saboteurs, not for rooting for the law’s failure but merely for not saving the Democrats’ asinine plans from themselves. Milbank seems to be suggesting that allowing the Democrats full control over the implementation of massive reform is a devastating mistake. I’m sure most Republicans agree with that, at least.

But now there’s some indication that rooting for the law, or at least the healthcare.gov insurance portal, to fail is actually the humane thing to do. That’s because, as Milbank’s colleague at the Post Sarah Kliff reports, there are problems with what is referred to as the 834 transmission, which “is the one form, in the giant machinery of HealthCare.gov, that lets insurance companies know who signed up for their product.” It’s a very important digital record, but those 834 transmissions are also glitchy: many of them apparently have the wrong consumer information on them, which Kliff says is a much larger problem than a slow website:

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Earlier today Jonathan tackled the accusation from the left that conservatives rooting for ObamaCare to collapse under its own weight were being disloyal. Indeed, there has been a broad attempt to force dual responsibility for the law by instituting a “good Samaritan law” of the sort that landed the Seinfeld klatch in jail in the show’s finale for laughing at the realtime misfortune of others. Here is Dana Milbank’s unconvincing plaint:

Their outrage has not been softened by the knowledge that the bulk of the sign-up problems has been in the states led by critics of the law who refused to cooperate with the federal government on the rollout. Essentially, Republicans are complaining about flaws created in part by their own sabotage.

When the spin is this laughable, you know the truth must be devastating. The law provided the states the choice of setting up their own exchanges. Those who didn’t voluntarily do what the Obama administration wanted them to are apparently saboteurs, not for rooting for the law’s failure but merely for not saving the Democrats’ asinine plans from themselves. Milbank seems to be suggesting that allowing the Democrats full control over the implementation of massive reform is a devastating mistake. I’m sure most Republicans agree with that, at least.

But now there’s some indication that rooting for the law, or at least the healthcare.gov insurance portal, to fail is actually the humane thing to do. That’s because, as Milbank’s colleague at the Post Sarah Kliff reports, there are problems with what is referred to as the 834 transmission, which “is the one form, in the giant machinery of HealthCare.gov, that lets insurance companies know who signed up for their product.” It’s a very important digital record, but those 834 transmissions are also glitchy: many of them apparently have the wrong consumer information on them, which Kliff says is a much larger problem than a slow website:

An 834 transmission contains enrollment data like an individual’s social security number, their dependents and the plan that they picked. That data is, obviously, critical: If it comes in wrong, an applicant may not get the right plan, or family members may not be covered, or identity may not be verifiable.

And guess what would turn the 834 transmissions glitch into a full-fledged disaster: that’s right, fixing the website too soon! Kliff explains:

Right now, health-insurance plans say they can manage these problems. Few enough enrollment forms are coming in that they’re able to hand-check each one. “What our company, and I’m assuming others, are doing is throwing people at it,” one insurer told Wonkblog. “We’re overcoming the tech flaws with manual reviews and manual rigor and manual processes. That’s fine right now, but when you start looking at the scale of what the Obama administration wants to do, that’s just not going to scale up.”

This approach undermines the very point of 834s, which is to make it possible for the computer system to automate the process of enrolling tens or even hundreds of thousands of applicants each day.

“The purpose of the electronic transaction is to be able to do this with a minimum amount of human intervention,” says Stanley Nachimson of Nachimson Advisors, a health IT consulting firm. “The hope would be that the health plan’s computers will be able to understand the transaction and do all the processes automatically.”

Some in the industry believe HealthCare.gov’s traffic problems have been a blessing-in-disguise for the program: If applicants were being able to sign up easily but the 834 forms were coming in with this many errors the results could be disastrous.

Let that sink in. The “train wreck” rollout of ObamaCare via a horrendous website was a blessing in disguise because it likely would have been a lot worse if people had actually been able to get coverage. It’s possible the system can overcome its initial failure, but ObamaCare might not have been able to survive its own success.

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Obama Sticks With Incompetence

Yesterday on CNN embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she had not informed President Obama about the problems affecting the Healthcare.gov website prior to it going live on October 1. That the person in charge of implementing the president’s signature health-care legislation was not only incapable of protecting the administration from a major embarrassment but actually kept him out of the loop about an impending debacle ought to be enough to get her (or anyone in similar circumstances) fired. But as Politico reports today, the consensus in Washington is that Sebelius is still untouchable because of the political difficulties involved in replacing her.

That Sebelius’s job is not in jeopardy because of politics tells us a lot about what’s wrong with this administration. Though the president and his followers seem to spend most of their time excoriating their Republican opponents as mindless partisans, once again this seems to be a case of projection. The fact that Republicans and conservative pundits are calling for Sebelius’s head seems to be enough reason to keep her in office despite her painfully obvious incompetence demonstrated during the ObamaCare rollout. The president has said that Republicans would stop calling it ObamaCare once they saw that it worked. But now that it isn’t working and with no assurances that it will be functioning properly anytime soon, he may be thinking that Reason’s Nick Gillespie was onto something when he suggested the other day that the White House may now be thinking that it should be renamed “SebeliusCare.”

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Yesterday on CNN embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she had not informed President Obama about the problems affecting the Healthcare.gov website prior to it going live on October 1. That the person in charge of implementing the president’s signature health-care legislation was not only incapable of protecting the administration from a major embarrassment but actually kept him out of the loop about an impending debacle ought to be enough to get her (or anyone in similar circumstances) fired. But as Politico reports today, the consensus in Washington is that Sebelius is still untouchable because of the political difficulties involved in replacing her.

That Sebelius’s job is not in jeopardy because of politics tells us a lot about what’s wrong with this administration. Though the president and his followers seem to spend most of their time excoriating their Republican opponents as mindless partisans, once again this seems to be a case of projection. The fact that Republicans and conservative pundits are calling for Sebelius’s head seems to be enough reason to keep her in office despite her painfully obvious incompetence demonstrated during the ObamaCare rollout. The president has said that Republicans would stop calling it ObamaCare once they saw that it worked. But now that it isn’t working and with no assurances that it will be functioning properly anytime soon, he may be thinking that Reason’s Nick Gillespie was onto something when he suggested the other day that the White House may now be thinking that it should be renamed “SebeliusCare.”

The feeling in the White House seems to be that attacks on Sebelius are just the latest Republican tactic in their ongoing campaign to stop ObamaCare. There’s some truth to that. But by framing the issue in this manner, they are looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. Of course, conservatives are going to be quick to find fault with anything to do with legislation that they bitterly opposed. But the president, who focused more on trying to sell the country on a bill that is already the law of the land and can’t be repealed while he is in office than on analyzing the website’s problems during his speech earlier this week, needs to forget about what Republicans are saying and understand that the bad performance of his own appointees is what is killing the program.

It is true that replacing Sebelius would set off a confirmation fight that would make it difficult to get virtually anyone approved to run HHS. That would provide the GOP with a chance to essentially re-litigate their complaints about legislation they believe is an unwarranted expansion of government power that hurts as many if not more people as it helps. But if he watched the CNN interview, the president has to be thinking that if he’s stuck with Sebelius for the duration of this mess, he’s in bigger trouble than even some of his critics think.

The assumption on the left is that the website problem is, as the White House continues to insist, mere “glitches.” But if, as more and more are starting to suspect, the real trouble is systemic rather than one involving technological quirks, what is needed at HHS is someone who understands such issues or at least someone capable of hiring people who do. What is so damning about Sebelius’ behavior is not so much that she doesn’t understand website design but that when confronted with a system that was clearly not ready for prime time, she didn’t have the presence of mind to consult with the president and alert him to the probability that sticking to the October 1 launch date was an invitation to disaster.

The reaction to criticism of Sebelius illustrates that the president is far more interested in preventing further discussions of the merits of the legislation than in actually seeing that it is properly administered. Though Democrats claim no one could be confirmed to replace her, were the president to seek out a non-political figure from the business world with experience with these sorts of problems, such a person would likely be confirmed without too much trouble.

The president may think that his appointment of acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients to oversee the website problems essentially gets Sebelius off the hook. Perhaps Sebelius also thinks so. But the idea that the person and department charged with overseeing ObamaCare is not also responsible for its full implementation is laughable. This confusion also further confirms GOP arguments that the whole thing is just too complicated for the D.C. bureaucracy to handle.

This is just the rollout of the first part of a complicated and costly piece of legislation that will have a potentially devastating impact on the economy. If Sebelius can’t handle this, what makes anyone think she’ll do any better with the rest of it? And if Obama is so obsessed with not listening to his critics that he is willing to stick with a proven incompetent, what does that say about his management skills?

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Dump Sebelius to Save ObamaCare?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has finally offered to testify before Congress next week. If she does, the grilling by the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the ObamaCare rollout will not be pretty. It’s far from clear that Sebelius will be able to supply satisfactory answers to questions about why this major expansion of government power was unveiled with an inadequate website and a system designed to crash. As Politico notes, we don’t even know if Sebelius, let alone President Obama, knows what’s wrong with it, how or when it can be fixed, how much it will cost, or why there was no backup plan prepared. As I noted last week, there are good political reasons for thinking the president is not inclined to fire Sebelius. But whether he likes it or not, she looks to be the only figure in the administration who can be called to account for the failure. And as more information starts to dribble out to answer these questions, a dynamic in which she is set up to be the sacrifice to the Washington volcano may be inevitable.

The president’s combative stance in his White House speech yesterday on the subject shows that although he professes to be angry about the situation, he’s still more inclined to vent his spleen at opponents of his signature health-care plan than at those screwing up its implementation. His position remains that the problems are mere “glitches” rather than systemic or connected to the inherent challenge of placing a portion of American health care in the hands of federal bureaucrats. This is a president who has always been reluctant to fire subordinates, no matter how incompetent they may be. Nor has he ever shown much interest in holding himself accountable for their mistakes. Thus the decision to focus on selling the wonders of ObamaCare rather than to investigate its flaws is very much in character. But once the scene shifts from the Rose Garden to a congressional hearing room, the president may find that he will rapidly lose control of this story. That will mean the White House will go back into the same scandal damage control mode that was employed with varying success when applied to the administration’s Benghazi, IRS, and spying scandals earlier this year. Unless his tech surge achieves a miraculous recovery of the faltering system, that may mean the end of Sebelius or a delay in the bill’s individual mandate, or both.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has finally offered to testify before Congress next week. If she does, the grilling by the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the ObamaCare rollout will not be pretty. It’s far from clear that Sebelius will be able to supply satisfactory answers to questions about why this major expansion of government power was unveiled with an inadequate website and a system designed to crash. As Politico notes, we don’t even know if Sebelius, let alone President Obama, knows what’s wrong with it, how or when it can be fixed, how much it will cost, or why there was no backup plan prepared. As I noted last week, there are good political reasons for thinking the president is not inclined to fire Sebelius. But whether he likes it or not, she looks to be the only figure in the administration who can be called to account for the failure. And as more information starts to dribble out to answer these questions, a dynamic in which she is set up to be the sacrifice to the Washington volcano may be inevitable.

The president’s combative stance in his White House speech yesterday on the subject shows that although he professes to be angry about the situation, he’s still more inclined to vent his spleen at opponents of his signature health-care plan than at those screwing up its implementation. His position remains that the problems are mere “glitches” rather than systemic or connected to the inherent challenge of placing a portion of American health care in the hands of federal bureaucrats. This is a president who has always been reluctant to fire subordinates, no matter how incompetent they may be. Nor has he ever shown much interest in holding himself accountable for their mistakes. Thus the decision to focus on selling the wonders of ObamaCare rather than to investigate its flaws is very much in character. But once the scene shifts from the Rose Garden to a congressional hearing room, the president may find that he will rapidly lose control of this story. That will mean the White House will go back into the same scandal damage control mode that was employed with varying success when applied to the administration’s Benghazi, IRS, and spying scandals earlier this year. Unless his tech surge achieves a miraculous recovery of the faltering system, that may mean the end of Sebelius or a delay in the bill’s individual mandate, or both.

The president insists that ObamaCare is working and it is just the “long checkout line” via the website that is problematic. But once Sebelius is put on the hot seat, that narrative may no longer be viable. Incompetence isn’t illegal, but it is a damning indictment of an administration whose main purpose is to expand the reach of the federal government. As with the raft of scandals that plagued the president earlier in the year (and from which the mainstream media eager to please the White House has happily moved on), if the best defense that can be put forward for misbehavior or failure is incompetence, that undermines the basic rationale of the Democrats’ efforts to entrust a big chunk of the national economy to government.

While the president was short on answers to the questions the country is asking about the problem, Sebelius won’t be able to get away with the same arrogant stance once she’s hauled in front of the various congressional committees that will want a share of the publicity. Democrats are talking as if all it will take is a few geeks pressing some buttons and the problems will be fixed. But it’s likely that the solution will be a lot more complicated and lot more time-consuming than they hope. As the weeks drag on without tangible improvements, the president may come to the conclusion that the only way to buy some more time for the program that is so close to his heart is to throw Sebelius under the bus. Though Republicans would be certain to turn the process of confirming a replacement into a nightmare, it might turn out to be a better option than stonewalling the issue. This president may believe the only acceptable scapegoats are Republicans, but Sebelius’s resignation may be on his desk long before he waves the white flag on implementing the individual mandate.

But Sebelius’s danger doesn’t scare the president nearly as much as the prospect that computer technology—his ace in the hole in two presidential campaigns—will be the undoing of his most cherished accomplishment. Make no mistake, if the tech surge doesn’t provide almost immediate relief as the January deadline looms closer, the president knows he will also have no choice but to push back the enforcement of the individual mandate. How ironic would it be if a bad computer system were to force the president to do what he vowed never to concede to Republicans? We’re still a long way from that point. But if it does happen, don’t bet on Sebelius still being around in office to see it.

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ObamaCare Denial Bigger Than Tech Surge

President Obama was expected to address the problems undermining the rollout of his signature health-care legislation today. But instead of a sober analysis of the problems and a plan for how they will be addressed, the president delivered yet another campaign speech extolling the virtues of his plan and denigrating its critics. Though he was forced to admit that there have been problems in the rollout of the scheme, a speech that was supposed to address them forthrightly turned into an infomercial for ObamaCare. Sounding at times more like a television pitchman for kitchen utensils than the leader of the free world, Obama promised that we would “save money” and get a “good deal” if only more of us called the 1-800 number and purchased the “good product” he was offering us out of the goodness of his heart. Rather than restoring confidence in a dysfunctional program, the president made it clear again that despite the “glitches” and “kinks” that have turned the Affordable Care Act’s debut into a nightmare for Democrats, he seemed like a man who was still in denial about this fact, not a leader who was prepared to honestly evaluate what has gone wrong.

The problem with ObamaCare right now seems to be that the president really thinks the only thing wrong with the bill is a long checkout line at the cash register. Instead of addressing directly how this disaster happened, the president is still trying to sell the country on something that we were repeatedly told over the last month was the established “law of the land.” Though the tech surge the White House had promised over the weekend might eventually make things better—though the scale of the problems is so large that it may take many weeks or months for them to be fixed—there was no sign that the president was prepared to think about whether these problems were the result of a faulty structure, bad leadership (Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius?), or how it was that this was the best his team could do after three years of preparation. Nor does he seem interested in thinking about whether this has anything to do with the bill being hastily thrown together or worried about how the implications of the glitches that are built into it are only just now being felt throughout the economy.

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President Obama was expected to address the problems undermining the rollout of his signature health-care legislation today. But instead of a sober analysis of the problems and a plan for how they will be addressed, the president delivered yet another campaign speech extolling the virtues of his plan and denigrating its critics. Though he was forced to admit that there have been problems in the rollout of the scheme, a speech that was supposed to address them forthrightly turned into an infomercial for ObamaCare. Sounding at times more like a television pitchman for kitchen utensils than the leader of the free world, Obama promised that we would “save money” and get a “good deal” if only more of us called the 1-800 number and purchased the “good product” he was offering us out of the goodness of his heart. Rather than restoring confidence in a dysfunctional program, the president made it clear again that despite the “glitches” and “kinks” that have turned the Affordable Care Act’s debut into a nightmare for Democrats, he seemed like a man who was still in denial about this fact, not a leader who was prepared to honestly evaluate what has gone wrong.

The problem with ObamaCare right now seems to be that the president really thinks the only thing wrong with the bill is a long checkout line at the cash register. Instead of addressing directly how this disaster happened, the president is still trying to sell the country on something that we were repeatedly told over the last month was the established “law of the land.” Though the tech surge the White House had promised over the weekend might eventually make things better—though the scale of the problems is so large that it may take many weeks or months for them to be fixed—there was no sign that the president was prepared to think about whether these problems were the result of a faulty structure, bad leadership (Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius?), or how it was that this was the best his team could do after three years of preparation. Nor does he seem interested in thinking about whether this has anything to do with the bill being hastily thrown together or worried about how the implications of the glitches that are built into it are only just now being felt throughout the economy.

The president did say that he was mad about Healthcare.gov’s problems. But that anger didn’t seem to be connected to any solutions other than to draft more tech and IT people to work on a website. The technical problems appear formidable. According to the New York Times, “as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.” But the problems go deeper than technical issues.

One major problem slowing repairs, people close to the program say, is that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency in charge of the exchange, is responsible for making sure that the separately designed databases and pieces of software from 55 contractors work together. It is not common for a federal agency to assume that role, and numerous people involved in the project said the agency did not have the expertise to do the job and did not fully understand what it entailed.

That means this is not just a question of “glitches” and “kinks.” Rather it is one that is just as much about governance, incompetent bureaucracy, and accountability. But all the president wants to talk about it how great his plan is and how unfair it is that everyone is talking about its website.

Let’s also put to rest the notion that this is comparable, as the president and his defenders keep insisting, to problems that private sector companies have in rolling out new programs or websites. After all, Americans can choose to purchase a new product or to reject it, as they like. But many of us aren’t going to be given a choice here. Registering for ObamaCare and buying it will be compulsory if you fall into certain categories. That makes the question of the interface between the public and “the product” not just a technical issue but also one that goes to the heart of the state mandate compelling its purchase. The fact that the ObamaCare website has the feel of every other citizen-government interaction most of us are used to is a signal that perhaps Washington shouldn’t be in charge of health care.

Some Americans will benefit from ObamaCare, but others are losing their existing coverage and being forced to choose among inadequate alternatives. Many others are seeing the price of insurance go up. Others are losing jobs as companies cut back in the face of punitive employer mandates. Even more troubling is the prospect, as with so many other entitlement programs that the president is prepared to defend to the death, of government-mandated generational theft as young Americans are forced to bear the burden for other, generally wealthier sectors of the population.

But even after having won his battle with Republicans in Congress over the issue in the government shutdown, President Obama is still unwilling to address these concerns or concerns about the impact the rollout will have on the economy. Instead, he prefers to do what he does best: campaign. That’s why we heard far more today about how wonderful ObamaCare is than about why it’s going so badly or how that can be corrected.

Democrats have long been certain (and some Republicans feared) that once in place, ObamaCare would work so well that it could never be overturned or cut back. The president spoke today as if he knew that this myth is dying quickly and must be resuscitated if the plan is to survive. But if the White House thought today’s event would quiet fears about an unfolding disaster, they were wrong. Until the president calls those in charge of this mess to account, and convene experts to study whether the structure put in place to administer this fiasco is adequate to the task, a mere tech surge won’t fix what ails ObamaCare. And until he stops trying to sell it as if he is the pitchman-in-chief and starts thinking more about how it is malfunctioning, Americans won’t trust him to administer it fairly or competently.

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Can Sebelius Survive Rollout Disaster?

Pundits and politicians are spending a lot of time today arguing about who were the biggest winners and losers of the government shutdown. Some are obvious. President Obama won. Republicans lost. Ted Cruz fits into both categories, as he did his party great damage but may have strengthened his popularity among Tea Partiers thinking about 2016. But lost amid the hubbub is the person who might have been the greatest beneficiary of the crisis: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius seems an unlikely candidate for this honor but as the person who has presided over the disastrous rollout out ObamaCare, she owes a huge debt to Cruz, Mike Lee and the House Republicans for bringing Washington to a standstill for 16 days. Had they not put forward the strategy that led to the government shutdown while monopolizing the attention of the media, it’s likely that most Americans would have spent this period obsessing about the incompetence of Sebelius and her department. Though the “glitches” of the Affordable Care Act’s website did not escape public notice, this was a story that would have been the lede of every newscast and at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country. Instead, it was an afterthought. This bought Sebelius precious time to try and fix some of the problems at Healthcare.gov. But now that the shutdown is over, it’s time to assess just how long she can survive and whether she will be the inevitable administration scapegoat for a problem that goes a lot deeper than bad computer programming.

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Pundits and politicians are spending a lot of time today arguing about who were the biggest winners and losers of the government shutdown. Some are obvious. President Obama won. Republicans lost. Ted Cruz fits into both categories, as he did his party great damage but may have strengthened his popularity among Tea Partiers thinking about 2016. But lost amid the hubbub is the person who might have been the greatest beneficiary of the crisis: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius seems an unlikely candidate for this honor but as the person who has presided over the disastrous rollout out ObamaCare, she owes a huge debt to Cruz, Mike Lee and the House Republicans for bringing Washington to a standstill for 16 days. Had they not put forward the strategy that led to the government shutdown while monopolizing the attention of the media, it’s likely that most Americans would have spent this period obsessing about the incompetence of Sebelius and her department. Though the “glitches” of the Affordable Care Act’s website did not escape public notice, this was a story that would have been the lede of every newscast and at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country. Instead, it was an afterthought. This bought Sebelius precious time to try and fix some of the problems at Healthcare.gov. But now that the shutdown is over, it’s time to assess just how long she can survive and whether she will be the inevitable administration scapegoat for a problem that goes a lot deeper than bad computer programming.

 As White House press secretary Jay Carney has argued, ObamaCare is more than a clunky website. He’s right about that but for an administration that has always rightly prided itself on their comfort level with technology and new media, somebody has to take responsibility for the fact that the president’s signature legislation is being implemented with a system that reeks of bureaucratic incompetence and lack of forethought.

Moreover, if Sebelius and her staff couldn’t even get a simple website business model right, it’s fair to ask how they can possibly manage what will eventually become a major expansion of government power that will influence the way Americans get their health care. Given that we already know that the implementation of many of its arcane and little understood nuances have caused the president to delay portions of its rollout, it’s more than likely than the website fiasco isn’t the last serious problem HHS will have in trying to manage this leviathan.

That leaves the president with a considerable dilemma.

The longer he leaves Sebelius in office the worse things are likely to get for ObamaCare. He had counted on the unpopular bill gradually winning over the public once many Americans started to enjoy their new benefits even if more Americans would be inconvenienced or harmed rather than helped. But the Sebelius-led department may already be in over its head on the issue. Without both a leadership change and a commitment to re-evaluating the entire department’s performance, the government’s growing health care bureaucracy may simply do what such entity’s generally do: sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand of red tape and lack of accountability. That may mean the expected boost from the ACA’s beneficiaries may have to wait a lot longer than the president expected. Perhaps it will be too long to do the Democrats any good in the 2014 midterm elections.

But canning Sebelius now or sometime in the near future will carry its own serious political risks.

Firing the secretary will mean doing something that Obama rarely does: admit a mistake. But more than that it will mean the start of a confirmation process and hearings that will, without any great effort on the part of the president’s Republican critics, turn into a public trial of the legislation and the competence of his administration. Coming off his triumph in the shutdown crisis, that might be enough to knock the president back to where he was two months ago as a series of failures and scandals had all but placed a sign reading “lame duck” on the front door of the White House.

Had the last two weeks been devoted to an exploration of Sebelius’ incompetence that might have created too much pressure on the president to resist the impulse to clean house now before the problem morphed into something that couldn’t be controlled.

Instead, it has bought Sebelius more time to vindicate her department and the ACA. But at some point, and probably sooner rather than later, it won’t be just Republicans calling for Sebelius’s head, but Democrats who will want someone to take the fall for an ObamaCare disaster that will spread as its impact on the economy grows. If, as is more than likely, she continues to fail, the president may have no choice but to have her walk the plank and start a controversial and perhaps damaging process to replace the secretary. If so, he may come to view the extra time the shutdown bought Sebelius as a curse disguised as a blessing that he might have good reason to regret.

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