October 23, 2013

Rollout Was Bad, but the Law Is Worse

Barack Obama had just the solution to the train-wreck rollout of Healthcare.gov: He gave a speech.

Barack Obama had just the solution to the train-wreck rollout of Healthcare.gov: He gave a speech. He assured us Monday in the Rose Garden that “nobody’s more frustrated by that than I am” about his own website not working. Small comfort. “There’s no excuse for the problems,” he said. “There’s no sugarcoating it.” He had, of course, just spent 10 minutes trying to sugarcoat it and would continue to do so for the remainder of his lengthy remarks. In fact, the president spent 30 minutes not explaining what happened or why.

Not to worry, though, there’s good news: “The product is good,” he says, and even though the website doesn’t work, people “can still buy the same quality affordable insurance plans available on the marketplace the old-fashioned way, offline – either over the phone or in person.” So he gave an 800-number to call, but, if callers didn’t get a busy signal, they were redirected to … the website. And the website refers people to the phone number. Press “3” for the Pony Express.

The speech was certainly little more than an infomercial intended for low-info voters. Obama was flanked by a baker’s dozen people out of whom only a couple had successfully signed up for coverage, though he claimed, “Thousands of people are signing up and saving money as we speak.” No, that was actually just one guy in Iowa trying a hundred times. And by all means, let the successful few tell us how much they’ve “saved.”

Obama’s magnetic personality isn’t going to fix the law’s implementation just because he says the law is great. Because of the massive failure, the White House is even seemingly open to more delay while a “tech surge” works to rewrite millions of lines of code in some indeterminate time. How many more millions of dollars will that cost?

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted that the site had “almost no testing” – the consumer end wasn’t tested fully until Sept. 26, five days before rollout, and it failed those tests – and that Obama didn’t know of the problems until after the rollout. Republicans calling for Sebelius’ resignation, however, are missing the point: To suggest she should be held responsible for the Healthcare.gov debacle implies that a better HHS Secretary might have made it work. Fact is, the failure of the rollout is but a metaphor for the reality that no government bureaucracy is ever going to successfully manage 18% of the U.S. economy, much less a basic commerce website for insurance comparisons.

Obama did say one thing Monday that was more true than he perhaps intended: “The Affordable Care Act is not just a website.” Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal notes, ObamaCare’s “real goal … is to centralize political control over health care,” and conservatives should keep that in mind as we continue to oppose the law and Democrats are saddled with full ownership of health care.

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