Obamacare, a Disastrous Press Conference, and an Unconstitutional “Fix”

President Obama held a press conference today that addressed–in large part–the utterly calamitous Obamacare rollout. You can read a transcript here. Anyone who might have hoped that this press conference would stop the political bleeding for this administration has to be mortified and sickened right now. Let’s excerpt some of the choice presidential quotations that are sure to find their way into Republican political ads within short order:

. . . I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law. . . . And we should have done a better job getting that right on day one, not on day 28 or on day 40.

Couldn’t agree more.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. You say, while the law was being debated, if you like your plan you can keep it. You said, after the law was implemented or signed, if you like your plan you can keep it. Americans believed you, sir, when you said that to them over and over.

Second question. (Laughter.) You were informed or several people in this building were informed two weeks before the launch of the website that it was failing the most basic tests internally; and yet a decision was made to launch the website on October 1st. Did you, sir, make that test (sic)? And if so, did you regret that?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK. On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working as — the way it was supposed to. Has I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.

So, clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website. Even a week into it, the thinking was that these were some glitches that would be fixed with patches, as opposed to some broader systemic problems that took much longer to fix and we’re still working on them.

So you know, that doesn’t excuse the fact that they just don’t work, but I think it’s fair to say, no, Major, we — we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn’t going to work the way it was supposed to, given all the scrutiny that we knew was going to be on — on the website.

The problem, of course, is that the Obama administration knew that the website wasn’t ready for prime time, but rolled it out anyway, and had the president tell us that getting health insurance was as easy as shopping “for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.” So, this attempt to rewrite history just does not work.

With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it, I think — you know, and I’ve said in interviews — that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate. It was not because of my intention not to deliver on that commitment and that promise. We put a grandfather clause into the law but it was insufficient.

Keep in mind that the individual market accounts for 5 percent of the population. So when I said you can keep your health care, you know, I’m looking at folks who’ve got employer-based health care. I’m looking at folks who’ve got Medicare and Medicaid. And that accounts for the vast majority of Americans. And then for people who don’t have any health insurance at all, obviously that didn’t apply. My commitment to them was you were going to be able to get affordable health care for the first time.

You have an individual market that accounts for about 5 percent of the population. And our working assumption was — my working assumption was that the majority of those folks would find better policies at lower cost or the same cost in the marketplaces and that there — the universe of folks who potentially would not find a better deal in the marketplaces, the grandfather clause would work sufficiently for them. And it didn’t. And again, that’s on us, which is why we’re — that’s on me.

And that’s why I’m trying to fix it. And as I said earlier, my — I guess last week, and I will repeat, that’s something I deeply regret because it’s scary getting a cancelation notice.

None of this explains or excuses the deliberate deceptions that the president and his political allies made to the American people when trying to sell Obamacare between 2009-2010.

Q: Did you decide, sir, that the simple declaration was something the American people could handle, but this new honest answer you just gave now was something they couldn’t handle, and you didn’t trust the American people with the fuller truth?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. I think, as I said earlier, Major, my expectation was that for 98 percent of the American people, either it genuinely wouldn’t change at all, or they’d be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest. That proved not to be the case. And that’s on me.

And the American people — those who got cancelation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me, but they don’t want just words. What they want is whether we can make sure that they’re in a better place and that we meet that commitment.

And by the way, I think it’s very important for me to note that, you know, there are a whole bunch of folks up in Congress and others who made this statement, and they were entirely sincere about it. And the fact that you’ve got this percentage of people who’ve had this, you know, impact — I want them to know that, you know, their senator or congressman, they were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our administrative staff told them, and so it’s not on them, it’s on us. But it is something that we intend to fix.

Again, this neither serves as an excuse or an explanation for why people were deliberately deceived and misled, but note that the president admits here that he knew that his assurances would not hold up for 2 percent of the population–approximately 6 million people.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Back to health care, can you guarantee for the American people that the health care website is going to be fully operational for all people — not just the vast majority — by November 30? And second, more broadly, this is your signature domestic piece of legislation.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

Q: You hear criticism on the Hill that you and your White House team are too insular. Is that how this mess came to be?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think there’s going to be a lot of — there’s going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point. And I’m — I assure you that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about that. (Chuckles.) The truth is that this is, number one, very complicated. You know, the website itself is doing a lot of stuff.

I still do not understand how it is complicated to get a website up and running in 2013.

There aren’t a lot of websites out there that have to help people compare their possible insurance options, verify income to find out what kind of tax credits they might get, communicate with those insurance companies so that they can purchase, make sure that all of it’s verified, right? So there’s just a — a bunch of pieces to it that made it challenging.

And you combine that with the fact that the federal government does a lot of things really well. One of the things it does not do well is information technology procurement. You know, this is kind of a systematic problem that we have across the board.

And you know, it is not surprising, then, that there were going to be some problems. Now, I think we have to ask ourselves some hard questions inside the White House, as opposed to why we didn’t see more of these problems coming earlier on, A, so we could set expectations, B, so that we could look for different ways for people to end up applying.

[. . .]

In terms of what happens on November 30th or December 1st, I think it’s fair to say that the improvement will be marked and noticeable. You know, the website will work much better on November 30th, December 1st, than it worked certainly on October 1st. That’s a pretty low bar. It’ll be working a lot better than it is — it was last week and will be working better than it was this week, which means that the majority of people who go to the website will see a website that is working the way it’s supposed to.

Notice that this doesn’t even come close to guaranteeing that by November 30th, the website will be operational. Essentially, this is the part where the Obama administration admits that it will not meet its self-imposed deadline of getting the website up and running by the end of this month.

I obviously can’t excerpt the entire transcript, so I urge people to read the whole thing and make their own judgments on how credible they find the president’s explanations. Of course, the transcript can hardly do justice to the president’s clear discomfort while talking about how badly he and his administration botched the Obamacare rollout, a discomfort that could only be appreciated by watching the president on television.

Of course, the main purpose of the press conference was for the president to announce that contrary to what Obamacare actually says, insurers would be allowed “to continue offering individual insurance plans for another year even if they do not comply with the law’s rules for minimum benefits.” Two points need to be made in response:

  • The first point–and the obvious one–is that the president of the United States is not empowered to unilaterally wave a wand from a podium and declare that portions of a law that Congress passed and he signed are now amended by presidential fiat. The president actually does have to get Congress to approve any and all changes to Obamacare via the normal legislative process, and the changes have to be reflected in a new bill that passes the House, passes the Senate, and gets signed into law by the president. You know, the way they taught us things work in Civics 101. I invite people to contemplate just how much the port side of the political divide would melt down and lose its collective fertilizer if George W. Bush announced from a podium that he was changing the law of the land without consulting Congress.
  • The second point worth making is that the state insurance commissioners who are charged with the responsibility of implementing this latest Obamaesque fiat have in fact lost their fertilizer. And justifiably so. No one has any idea how the president’s supposed fix is going to be put into effect. No one can be confident that the president’s supposed fix won’t “higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond. . . . In many states, cancellation notices have already gone out to policyholders and rates and plans have already been approved for 2014. Changing the rules through administrative action at this late date creates uncertainty and may not address the underlying issues.”

Peter Suderman points out what everyone should realize by now:

This president’s announcement today that the White House will allow health insurance companies to continue selling plans that do not meet the Affordable Care Act’s minimum criteria—millions of which have already been subject to cancellation notices—is likely to be a pivotal moment in the political fight over the 2010 health law. It’s the moment in which President Obama, prodded by his own party, is making his first, tacit admission that Obamacare is unworkable.

It may not seem that way at first, because the most immediate impact of the move is to stave off political pressure. The announcement comes in response to growing urgings from congressional Democrats to take action in response to health plan cancellations that have occurred, and are expected to continue occurring, as a result of Obamacare. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and five other Senate Democrats said this week that they backed a bill that would require insurers to continue offering plans into 2014. A separate bill offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would have simply allowed insurers to keep offering plans that do not meet Obamacare’s requirements.

Today’s announcements gives Democrats a response to complaints about plan cancellations. The White House has heard their complaints, they can say, and is doing something about it.

What the administration is really doing, though, is attempting to shift the blame. Insurers have spent months if not years preparing for the changes and requirements enacted under Obamacare. They will have a difficult time turning on a dime and extending cancelled policies. They may not be able to in some or many cases. And state insurance regulators will have to sign off on reinstatements, creating an additional layer of insulation between plan upsets and the administration.

Now when asked about people losing their plans, the White House and its Democratic allies in Congress will be able to argue that this isn’t a result of their law. It’s the insurers fault. As one insurance industry source tells Buzzfeed, “This doesn’t change anything other than force insurers to be the political flack jackets for the administration. So now when we don’t offer these policies the White House can say it’s the insurers doing this and not being flexible.”

As Suderman goes on to point out, this change also means “that the pool of people who get insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges will be sicker and more expensive. This year’s premiums were set on the expectation that noncompliant plans would be cancelled, and that the cancellations, in combination with the mandate to purchase coverage, would create a market for plans sold in the exchanges. So Obama is creating a long-term policy problem in order to solve a short-term political problem.” But according to Suderman, the fix is only temporary because eventually, premiums will rise and plans may have to be taken off the market. How this is supposed to change health care for the better is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, Democrats are busy trying to run away from the signature legislative achievement of the president of their own party. You know, the one they thought was so excellent that it might realign the political environment in favor of Democrats for the next generation or so. More here. Democrats are right to worry:

Last Sunday Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CNN’s Candy Crowley that “Democratic candidates will be able to run on ObamaCare as an advantage leading into the 2014 election.” Republicans should pray every night that Democrats take her delusional advice and make ObamaCare their campaign’s centerpiece.

The Affordable Care Act has become toxic, especially among independents who will decide the 2014 contest. In a Nov. 11 Quinnipiac poll, 30% of independents approved of the health-care law.

Since September, Mr. Obama’s approval on health care in the Pew Research Center poll declined four percentage points, to 37%. His overall job approval dropped to 41% from 44%. Worse are the hits to his credibility. In the Quinnipiac poll, 46% of registered voters and 51% of independents believe Mr. Obama “knowingly deceived” Americans when he promised they could keep their health plan if they liked it.

Until now, many people who disagreed with Mr. Obama’s agenda still liked him. But a late October Fox poll found his personal favorability at 45% and his unfavorability at 50%. Duplicity will do that. And while the president may think everything about ObamaCare will be OK soon, fear is growing among Democrats who see little time and few ways to avoid a 2014 slaughter.

The human cost of Obamacare continues to mount. This link is just here to remind us all that disastrous policies actually can cost lives.

Finally: Jonah Goldberg. No excerpts; the whole thing is just too utterly wonderful to excerpt. Read it all. And a note to the GOP: Don’t be taken by calls for a “bipartisan fix” to Obamacare. The people who issue those calls just want Republicans to own this disaster. Don’t let them. This law can’t get fixed. It can only get replaced with a better law.