Nancy Pelosi infamously said that we had to pass Obamacare to find out what’s in it. The then-House speaker erroneously assumed, evidently, that people would be able to get onto the government-run exchanges created by the law.
So far, the law’s implementation has been as ugly as its passage. The rollout of “Obamacare” has been so disastrous that even “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart was plainly mystified and unconvinced when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came on his show the other day to offer reassurances.
Judging by the haphazard beginning — error messages have been the norm, and the federal website has had to be taken offline several times — you’d guess that this was a back-burner project for the Obama administration, or the start date for the exchanges had been sprung on it a few weeks ago. Of course, it is the president’s most cherished initiative, and his team has had more than three years to get the exchanges up and running.
Imagine the chaos if this were something the administration cared about less. The conservative trope used to be that Americans shouldn’t want health care delivered by the people who run the post office. The new conservative trope could be that Americans shouldn’t want health care delivered by the people who built HealthCare.gov.
A young man named Chad Henderson achieved instant media celebrity by claiming to have signed up for “Obamacare” on the federal exchange. So desperate were reporters to find someone who had managed this unlikely feat that they flocked to him for interviews about his amazing experience — except even he hadn’t actually done it.
How many people sign up for insurance on the exchanges is central to the future of the law. But administration officials won’t say how many people have enrolled. This is either because they do know and are too embarrassed to say, or because the system is so dysfunctional, it is genuinely impossible to determine.
The website problems are the result, according to the administration, of overwhelming volume. Experts disagree. CBS quoted a programmer named Luke Chung observing that “it wasn’t designed well, it wasn’t implemented well, and it looks like nobody tested it.”
President Barack Obama and his team have repeatedly compared “Obamacare’s” ‘glitches’ to those of the new Apple operating system. But Steve Jobs was a demanding and exacting boss. If he had run Apple like HHS, it would have been the best thing ever to happen to BlackBerry.
Presumably, the administration will eventually make its website work. The more fundamental question is whether the larger project is sustainable when the exchanges need young and healthy people to sign up, at the same time they will have to pay sharply more.
The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News quoted one Cindy Vinson, an “Obamacare” supporter, who was disconcerted to learn that she will have to pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy. “Of course, I want people to have health care,” she said. “I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”
She might not have realized it because the president never mentions it. In all his speeches about “Obamacare,” he never quite gets around to the part about some premiums going up, which for people forced to pay more will probably be the most salient feature of the law.
But hey, what could go wrong?
Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.