The contrasts between the state of Washington's health care exchange and the federal government's rollout of Obamacare were placed into sharp relief last week. After President Barack Obama announced changes to the federal plan, attempting to help people keep their insurance if they like it, state officials quickly revealed their response.
"We have worked for three years to implement the Affordable Care Act in a way that works best for Washingtonians," state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. "One goal of our efforts has been to build a stable, fair and competitive individual health insurance market."
If only it had been Obama saying those words. Instead, the president was echoing Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" moment from so many years before, saying, "I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans." So, he revealed plans to alter Obamacare, allowing most people to retain their private health care plans for one year despite having received letters saying they no longer could keep their insurance.
The first question about Obama's decision involves the legality of the move. His administration has unilaterally decided to alter provisions in a program that — as he has reminded the public on numerous occasions — was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. The last time we checked, nothing in the Constitution allows for the president to change parts of a law he considers unworkable. Like it or not, it is the law, which has been another mantra of Obama's over the past several years.
Shortly after the president delivered his mea culpa on Thursday, Kreidler announced that Washington would not adhere to the president's plan allowing insurance companies to extend their policies. An estimated 290,000 people in the state have received cancellation notices and will have to choose new health insurance.
"I have serious concerns about how President Obama's proposal would be implemented and, more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market," Kreidler said.
Because Washington's plan has been a relative success, Kreidler's position is defensible. The state has signed up more than 7,000 enrollees through its exchange, ranking behind only the much more populous California and New York.
"In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers," Kreidler said, "we are staying the course."
Obama didn't have such an option. The health care fiasco has become problematic for Democrats in Congress who have been stained by the fallout with an election year looming. Federal officials revealed last week that 27,000 people had enrolled in the federal health plan through HealthCare.gov during the first month of the rollout, while the 14 states with their own plans had signed up 79,000 people.
"I am very frustrated," Obama said. "But I'm also somebody who, if I fumble the ball, I'm going to wait for the next play and then run as hard as I can to do right by the team."
Let's hope so. If the president likes football analogies, we would say the Obamacare rollout has been more like a snap that goes over the punter's head and rolls 20 yards into the end zone, where it's recovered by the other team for a touchdown. Washington's health exchange, meanwhile, keeps picking up solid 10- and 12-yard gains.