Obamacare Is Bringing Down the Obama Administration

With each passing day, the president’s signature legislative achievement is becoming more and more of a liability for him and for his administration, politically. (We leave aside for the moment the policy liability that it is and always has been for the country.) Josh Kraushaar invites us to contemplate the previously unthinkable scenario of Democrats (yes, you read that right. Democrats) urging the repeal of Obamacare:

There’s nothing that Democrats want more than to change the subject from Obamacare, despite DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s protestations otherwise. Congressional Democrats don’t want to be dealing with a drip-drip of news about premiums going up, patients losing their doctors, and a broken health care website as they face angry voters in 2014. Hillary Clinton doesn’t want this issue lingering past the midterms. She hitched her presidential prospects to President Obama’s wagon and she’s not about to let someone else’s crisis damage her presidential ambitions yet again, Even Vice President Joe Biden, who called the health care law a “big f—ing deal,” didn’t mention it once at a fundraiser last week for North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan.

Unless the HealthCare.gov website miraculously gets fixed by next month, there’s a growing likelihood that over time, enough Democrats may join Republicans to decide to start over and scrap the whole complex health care enterprise. That became clear when even Obama, to stop the political bleeding, offered an administrative fix that threatened the viability of the entire individual exchange market to forestall a House Democratic mutiny the next day. It was as clear sign as any that the president is pessimistic about the odds that the federal exchange website will be ready by the end of the month, as promised.

More than anything, politics is about self-preservation, and the last two weeks provided numerous examples of how public opinion has turned so hard against the law that even its most ardent supporters are running for the hills. It’s not just red-state Democrats, like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, distancing themselves from the law. It’s blue-state senators like Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen — and top blue-state recruits like Michigan’s Gary Peters and Iowa’s Bruce Braley, who voted for GOP legislation Friday that the White House said would “gut” the law. Nearly every House Democrat in a competitive district joined with Republicans to threaten the law. Without a quick fix, those ranks will grow.

This tsunami of blowback, which built in just the last month, is unsustainable for Democrats over the long haul. The president isn’t just losing his skeptics from the chaotic Obamacare rollout but his allies who stood to gain from the law’s benefits — namely Hispanics, whose approval of the president has dropped more than any demographic subgroup since the problems began. The simplest solution — if only to stop the bleeding — is to get the website fixed. (When former DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s proposal is to hire tens of thousands of young phone operators to sign people up for insurance — straight out of a Jerry Lewis telethon — as he suggested on “Morning Joe,” it’s clear the website problems are really bad.).

Would President Obama sign a death warrant on his own signature legislation? That’s almost impossible to imagine, but it’s entirely reasonable that he may not have a choice in the matter. Consider: Despite the White House’s protestations, 62.4 percent of the House voted for Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s legislation (261-157), just shy of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto. And consider the House Democrats who voted against Upton’s bill but nonetheless released harsh statements criticizing Obamacare. Maryland Rep. John Delaney, in a statement, wrote: “The problem we have currently is that the Affordable Care Act is not working.” Added Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick: “The stunning ineptitude of the ACA marketplace rollout is more than a public relations disaster. It is a disaster for the working families in my Arizona district who badly need quality, affordable health care.” Add them into the mix — the dozens more members who were poised to split with the president until his face-saving press conference — and you’ve got all but the hardy Obama loyalists who could end up bolting if the political environment doesn’t improve.

Ron Fournier–who has been a tiger concerning this story–notes that the Obama administration’s display of utter incompetence has not yet run its course. Read the whole thing–to excerpt one part of it would be to have to excerpt all parts, and I am certainly not going to do that–but note that the White House is defining down what a successful website registration means, there were no benchmarks included in the technology contracts, the administration is hardly being transparent with the public, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi still refuse to tell the truth, and there has been no one fired and there will be no one fired for this display of incompetence in the near future. The administration is not exactly setting records in the getting-back-the-trust-of-the-people department.

Walter Russell Mead points us to the frankly scary fact–which cannot be emphasized enough–that right up until the rollout of Obamacare, the president did not know that the signup vehicle for his signature legislation would not work. I imagine, of course, that the president did know that even if Americans liked their plans, and the doctors and hospitals that they were seeing, they wouldn’t be able to keep those plans/doctors/hospitals, so in addition to presidential inattention to detail, we also have to contend with presidential dishonesty, and the dishonesty of all those who joined the president in selling Obamacare to the public. Again, the president bears responsibility for his lack of intellectual curiosity regarding the workings of the Obamacare website, but as Mead notes, the president does have a staff which is supposed to alert him to oncoming disasters. The staff dropped the ball completely, and it cannot be emphasized enough that as of this writing, the president’s response has been to fire no one.

We are not, of course, done with things that might go wrong:

The stumble-filled debut of President Barack Obama’s health care law is drawing new attention to the other risks that have been on the radar screen of health care wonks for months. Think health insurance plans sinking under the weight of sick customers, newly insured people being stunned that they still have to spend on health care, and possibly another wave of canceled policies — right before the 2014 elections.

They’re mostly worst-case scenarios, and an Obamacare recovery in the next few months could still prevent some of the biggest ones from ever happening. But health care experts are taking all of them a lot more seriously now — because at this point, why wouldn’t they?

So, the time bombs to be worried about are as follows:

  • The Death Spiral. Only sick people get on the health insurance exchanges, which means that there will be skyrocketing premiums since the risk is not balanced out for insurers by having healthy people in the exchanges as well. The malfunctioning website increases the chances that there will be a death spiral, because healthy, richer people will give up on signing up for the exchanges faster than will poorer, sicker people.
  • Implementing the President’s New Cancellations Fix. In addition to the fix being an utterly cynical political maneuver with no redeeming policy consequences, it is going to be costly to implement as well. Insurance prices may rise despite the “fix,” or perhaps even because of it.
  • Election Season Price Increases. This will be a political headache for the Obama administration and for Democrats, but it will, of course, also be bad for ordinary people who are less interested in politics and more interested in making sure that they can balance their personal budgets. You know, the people the administration and its allies said would be helped by Obamacare.
  • Obamacare May Cause You to Have No Coverage. If you can’t get insurance by December 15th, you may be utterly and completely without it until January 1st of next year. If something happens to you in the interim, well, tough, I guess. Behold the compassionate nature of Obamacare.
  • “Insurance Is How Much?!?!” If you think that there will be no sticker shock associated with Obamacare, you might want to think again. And in the event that you are hoping that subsidies will absorb some of the price shock, remember that most people simply will not qualify for subsidies. And even if you get subsidies, you may get the wrong ones because of a change in your income after a subsidy payment.
  • You May Not Even Be Able to Prove You Are Covered. As the Politico story notes, this was a problem for people who registered for Medicare Part D. Given the website problems, it is sure to be an issue with Obamacare.

Other than all of that, of course, I am sure that things will go wonderfully.

Or maybe not. It appears that even if you sign up for insurance by December 15th and make your first premium payment, you may not get coverage until January 1st. And paying the premium is very difficult because–guess what?!?!–the website doesn’t work. As the story indicates “[t]he window of opportunity for consumers needing coverage for 2014 for all practical purposes may be about a week.”

The White House is now forced to try to bypass the very website it touted as the best vehicle with which to sign up for Obamacare, and it needs the help of insurers to do so. These are the very same insurers the Obama administration and its allies tried to blame for the cancellation of insurance that you were supposed to keep “period” if you liked; never mind the fact that in canceling the insurance, the insurers were only doing what the Affordable (ha!) Care Act told them they had to do–cancel insurance policies that did not meet Obamacare standards. Gee, I wonder why this calamity is being considered a threat to liberalism itself, in addition to being considered a mortal blow to the president’s prospects for a successful second term.