I have done a bit of whinging about how the Republican strategery of staging a debt-ceiling scuffle they can't fight and won't win has distracted from the ObamaCare debacle. Mickey Kaus notes that by letting the press discover the disaster on their very ownsome, the coverage is harsher. His punchline:
When your enemy is in the process of destroying himself, the worst thing to do to is stop him. But the second worst may be to have Darrell Issa hold hearings.
Good point! But my current view is that whether Mickey is right or not in terms of optimal Republican strategy won't matter (and how often could that be said of any of us...). Unlike abstract discussions of, for example, the existence and importance of rising income inequality or the quality of life in Baghdad or the changes in American life caused by untrammelled illegal immigration, the ObamaCare issues will be experienced by millions of Americans. The resolution (or revolution!) will also be lived, and soon.
In other words, time will tell! And pretty quickly. If these website problems can't be solved and the result is mess there will be no hiding it and the fun Obama has had in the last two weeks bashing irresponsible Republicans will be but a fading memory of glory past as the coverage shifts to this.
For folks not terrified by this Times coverage from last Sunday, Obama cheerleader Ezra Klein puts down the pom-poms and offers this nightmare - the front end failure has been so vast that we don't even know if the back end will work, but it doesn't seem to:
2. Are there problems behind the problems? In the weeks leading up to the launch I heard some very ugly things about how the system was performing when transferring data to insurers -- a necessary step if people are actually going to get insurance. I tried hard to pin the rumors down, but I could never quite nail the story, and there was a wall of official denials from the Obama administration. It was just testing, they said. They were fixing the bugs day by day.
According to Bob Laszlewski, those problems aren't resolved. They're just not getting much attention because the health-care law's Web sites aren't working well enough for people to get that far in the process. Laszlewski does a lot of work with the insurance industry, so I'd take this post of his very seriously:
The backroom connection between the insurance companies and the federal government is a disaster. Things are worse behind the curtain than in front of it"
Here is one example from a carrier–and I have received numerous reports from many other carriers with exactly the same problem. One carrier exec told me that yesterday they got 7 transactions for 1 person – 4 enrollments and 3 cancellations.
For some reason the system is enrolling, unenrolling, enrolling again, and so forth the same person. This has been going on for a few days for many of the enrollments being sent to the health plans. It has got on to the point that the health plans worry some of these very few enrollments really don’t exist.
The reconciliation system, that reconciles enrollment between the feds and the health plans, is not working and hasn’t even been tested yet.
So basically, we have a three step process. People try to establish an account and buy insurance; that step has failed miserably. Step 2, where the insurer gets the key information about their new customer, is under-utilized due to the failures at Step 1 but looks like it is failing in its own right. And Step 3, where the scorecards are checked and everything is reconciled, has not experienced live testing due to the failure at 1 and 2 but is untested and not working.
And anyone with a whiff of experience in developing systems knows that all three phases need to be integrated. That means the fixes and patches which eventually cobble Step 1 together need to flow through to Steps 2 and 3. Which takes a level of coordination and competence the project managers have not previously demonstrated.
I stand by my earlier vision - soon we will see Harry Reid demanding a delay to ObamaCare and Ted Cruz filibustering it so that ObamaCare can limp over a cliff.
KEEPING HOPE ALIVE: Ezra Klein links to this bit of wishful thinking by his colleague Sarah Kliff:
The last time the government expanded health care, it was also kind of a disaster
Apparently the Medicare Part D rollout in 2005 was glitchy but now all is well, so we can relax. Or at least keep our fingers crossed.
Oh, please. Most Part D participants already had some sort of drug coverage and were eager to find a cheaper alternative, or at least were keenly aware of the possible benefits of enrolling. Motivation was not a problem.
That is in stark contrast to the ObamaCare situation, where enrolling a lot of young invincibles who have never been bothered to buy health coverage in order to cross-subsidize the rest of us is key to the financial strategy. Trust me - website glitches or no, people with pre-existing conditions whose current insurance plan has been cancelled due to the advent of OabamCare will figure out a way to get coverage with or without the website. It is the young, web-savvy, 'maybe I will, maybe I won't, but there's no harm in looking' type of prospective client that won't bother calling an insurance broker and finding some other way into the system.
I continue to believe that Republicans need to end this debt ceiling drama and let the ObamaCare collpase take center stage. But if we are really talking about a train wreck rivalling the Titanic or the Hindenburg, then now is just as good as two weeks ago.