A.B. Stoddard: ObamaCare in disrepair

A.B. Stoddard: ObamaCare in disrepair
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President Obama is frustrated that Republicans won’t help clean up his mess. After passing a partisan law upending one-sixth of the private economy without GOP support, the president is lamenting that the law’s critics are “invested in failure.” Despite warnings that big change only succeeds when both parties support it, Obama complained Tuesday that Washington should break the “stubborn cycle of crisis politics and start working together.” A great idea.

It’s a bit late for Republican buy-in on the Affordable Care Act, as it continues to unfold like a slow-motion political and policy nightmare. Democrats own it, along with all the broken promises that came with it. 

There was the promise that those who were insured and content could keep their policies, but that wasn’t true. In a panic, Obama asked the insurance companies now adjusting to entirely new rules to break one and give those policies back to people who were upset about losing their plans. Despite a premise of the law — that those old plans aren’t good enough and need to be replaced by more comprehensive ones — the “fix” would permit the old plans. But renewing those plans is likely to cost more. In North Carolina, people who received cancellation notices are now likely to be able to keep their plans, but Blue Cross Blue Shield said they could cost between 16 and 24 percent more.

So Obama’s broken promises become more broken as the days pass. And about that broken website: Parts of it weren’t ever flawed because they didn’t exist. It turns out only 60-70 percent of HealthCare.gov system has been actually built. One might assume that a website designed to sell insurance would include a function that completes payment to insurance companies so they can provide coverage, but an administration official admitted that was never done. “We still have to build the financial management aspects of the system, which includes our accounting system and payment system and reconciliation system,” Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao told the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday, adding — with a straight face — that those systems are still being developed and tested. Nearly two months later.

So did the president know that as well when he promised the site would be fully operational by Nov. 30? Sure, he has backtracked now, and the administration estimates the site might never serve 100 percent of the consumers who visit it (perhaps only 80 percent) but why promise repairs for parts of the site that didn’t even exist?

Meanwhile, the Koch brothers have poured good money into an ad campaign against Democrats in swing seats in order to make sure ObamaCare remains the No. 1 political issue. As Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, which is running the ads, said, conservatives plan on “keeping it in front of the American people night and day.”

Thus far, the president’s response to the onslaught has been to offer that, in hindsight, the best course would have been to “blow up how we procure IT.” Of course he also wants to blame Republicans for not rushing in to help repair the law. “We obviously are going to have to remarket and rebrand, and that will be challenging in this political environment,” Obama said Tuesday.

In order to achieve success, remarketing and rebranding ObamaCare to young and healthy Americans should be the top focus of the administration, but instead of learning the benefits of coverage, those critical participants are hearing about the myriad problems with the program. Insurance companies, which promised millions in advertising to promote the law, can’t sell those benefits if people can’t successfully navigate the website. Instead, the very people Obama needs the most are learning more about what a mess the Affordable Care Act is.  Night and day. 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.