Three weeks into it, the federal government’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been an unmitigated disaster in most parts of the country. Yet in assessing the early days of Obamacare, it is important to separate the conception from the execution.
On Monday, President Obama spoke of problems with the program’s main website, HealthCare.gov, saying there was “no sugarcoating” the problems. Users have encountered extensive glitches in the program, finding difficulty logging on and navigating the site.
According to The Washington Post, “The problem here isn’t just technological. It’s managerial. … The result was that the White House didn’t know the truth about its own top initiative — and so they were unprepared for the disastrous launch. … In any normal corporation, heads would roll over a managerial failure of such magnitude and consequence.” This being federal government, no heads have rolled yet, and it’s possible none will, which would compound the failure.
The feds are running Obamacare for 36 states. Washington — along with Oregon — is among those that have their own sites, and local residents have enjoyed relatively smooth going. As of Monday, about 35,000 people in Washington had signed up for insurance through the state’s health care exchange, even though the site crashed for about 4 1/2 hours upon its launch on Oct. 1.
“It was nerve-racking,” Richard Onizuka, CEO of Washington’s exchange, told NPR. “We did a lot of analysis and diagnosis. We were hoping it would get better the second day. It got a little bit better. … We took it down the second night and it got better the third day. I’m breathing a little easier.”
The Obama administration can’t say the same, and the problems have led to renewed calls for a delay in the plan’s individual mandate, which requires individuals to have health coverage or pay a fine.
Yet while glitches have been endemic, the administration’s failures with the health exchange should not serve as an indictment of Obamacare in totality. Vast programs are destined to be beset by some glitches. As Stephen Mihm, a history professor at the University of Georgia, wrote for Bloomberg News, Medicare experienced similar problems upon its launch in 1965. “Judging from the history of Medicare’s missteps,” he wrote, “the new health insurance program will spend much more time in intensive care than anyone imagined.”
That is not to absolve the Affordable Care Act itself; opposition remains strong. Among the loudest arguments against Obamacare is the fact that once an entitlement is in place, it’s in place forever. That’s the American way, and it’s not one of our more endearing traits.
The months leading up to the launch revealed some of the law’s shortcomings. Among the most glaring was the fact that numerous companies reduced the working hours for thousands of employees, bringing them below the 30-hour-a-week threshold that would require businesses to provide health care. This cannot be brushed off as an unforeseen consequence, as many pundits had predicted such an outcome.
So, yes, there are problems with the Affordable Care Act, and they must be fixed legislatively. But considering that the law has survived some 40 attempts from the House of Representatives to defund it, and considering that Obama was re-elected after the plan’s passage, and considering that Obamacare’s legality was upheld by the Supreme Court, the law is here to stay. Even if its launch has been marked by incompetence.