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.