Last week I warned residents of the D.C. area to brace themselves for earth tremors as the HealthCare.gov goalposts were moved. As it turns out, the biggest quake to date struck the normally placid geology of Florida, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – fresh off a Miami demonstration in which the disastrous website crashed before her eyes, prompting the most powerful bureaucrat in human history to mumble “uh oh” – made this astonishing statement:
“The 30th of November is not a magic go, no go date. It is a work of constant improvement. We have some very specific things we know we need to complete by the 30th and that punch list is getting knocked out every week,” Sebelius told The Associated Press.
That’s funny, because Team Obama most assuredly was portraying it as a magic date when they promised unto the heavens that everything would be jake by the end of November. Of course, they were drowning under the first of several tidal waves of bad news at the time, and they were ready to say any crazy thing necessary to get a couple of halfway decent headlines. Longtime students of this Administration know that it fights every scandal – from Fast and Furious, to Benghazi, to the ObamaCare disaster – one news cycle at a time. Until now, the approach seems to have worked for them, since friendly media has not been eager to remind the American people of what President Obama and his mouthpieces were saying a week ago.
The Associated Press compiled a little timetable of the rapidly devolving promises for a working website by the beginning of December:
The definition has morphed in the past few weeks. At an Oct. 30 congressional hearing, Sebelius projected “an optimally functioning website” by the end of November. On Nov. 5, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified that the site would be “fully functioning” by that date.
Last week, President Barack Obama said the “the improvement will be marked and noticeable.”
On Tuesday, Sebelius told the AP it would work for most users by the end of the month, but would still require fixes because of the magnitude of the first-of-its-kind project.
“We recognize that there will still be periodic spikes, glitches, whatever that people will experience,” she said.
They left out the bit where White House spokesman Jay Carney redefined the promise that HealthCare.gov would work for “the vast majority of users” by November 30 to mean that it will kinda sorta work for 80 percent of users. They also left out the astounding, offhanded concession by CMS computer chief Henry Chao that half, or more, of the system doesn’t even exist yet, including the part that processes payments to insurance providers.
Sebelius now says of the decision to launch this horrific half-finished mess on October 1, “Clearly that was a bad call.” Gee, ya think?
Some of us grouchy critical types might wonder why a titanic government staffed with an army of six-figure bureaucrats would make such an obviously bad call regarding the launch of a trillion-dollar program and its $500 million computer system. The central premise of ObamaCare is that Big Government is smarter and wiser than free citizens and the private corporations they would rather do business with. Between this and the beached-whale performance of Obama’s centrally planned economy, the case for superior government judgment is becoming awfully difficult to make, even to the Low Information Voters.
Why would the Administration launch a system it knew was half unfinished, and so riddled with bugs that it couldn’t pass any of the tests it was given, creating a platform that could only be accessed by a handful of users before crashing? Granted they don’t give a damn about the hardships they were about to inflict on the American people. (Those of you who take issue with that statement need to explain why anyone who did have such concerns would agree to deploy Healthcare.gov in such a sorry state. It’s painfully obvious that no high-level decision makers, including the President, ever stopped and said, “Damn, this is going to put people through hell, and they’re going to waste huge amounts of time trying to make it work. Never mind the politics of the situation, we can’t do that to our constituents!”)
But didn’t they worry about the political fallout from the launch disaster they knew was coming? Perhaps, but above all, remember that “one news cycle at a time” Benghazi mentality. The hit they would have taken for postponing the website launch – and, inevitably, most of the rest of the Affordable Care Act, beginning with the individual mandate – during the shutdown drama would have been intense. Imagine the juxtaposition of headlines between Obama ordering national monuments sealed behind barricades to make the shutdown hurt, and a headline about him admitting that critics were right all along, and ObamaCare had to be delayed.
Remember also that Barack Obama knew the Big Lie was false, every time he told it. He knew millions of people were going to lose their insurance plans. A delay of the system would have moved the bad-news apocalypse he’s experiencing right now even closer to the midterm elections. A delay would have damaged ObamaCare in every conceivable way, made the Administration look ridiculous, and greatly increased the odds of complete repeal. Democrats would have been shaken to their core by a delay, announced while Cruz missiles were flying over their rhetorical battlements. The months of delay would have been a long, painful slog for the Administration, as everyone involved in the aborted disaster was hauled into congressional subcommittee hearing rooms. Worst of all, it would have handed a huge public relations victory to Republicans, especially the most dogged critics of ObamaCare. That’s Obama’s worst-case scenario, the outcome he wanted to avoid at all costs. (That’s always an easier attitude to maintain when other people pay all the costs.)
There was no other call except “damn the people, full speed ahead” in the Obama playbook. It bought him time, and he tends to assume that time is always on his side, because he has great faith in his ability to talk people into, or out of, just about anything. And he was really hoping that a shower of taxpayer subsidies would smooth over public discontent, in addition to getting the middle class hooked on a new welfare program that could be used to control it. A lot of critics on the Right were convinced the subsidies would outweigh everything else, too. And maybe they still will, because one of the reasons they’re not helping Obama much is that his broken-down roach motel of a website can’t calculate the subsidies accurately.
As for Sebelius’ contention that November 30 isn’t a “magic go, no-go date”: oh, yes it is. For one thing, it’s pretty clear from the current public mood that failure to keep those extravagant relaunch promises is going to be virtually unspinnable. This time people will remember what the Administration said last week, and last month. Not even the Men In Black could neuralyze them into forgetting this.
Also, as a simply practical matter, there’s just no way the low-capacity ObamaCare system is going to be able to process enrollments and payments in time to secure January 1 coverage for the five million people who were betrayed by Obama’s Big Lie. Even November 30 is too late. Early in the game, experts predicted that November 15 was a more realistic deadline, and that has come and gone. Payment must be processed by December 15 to ensure coverage – and at this point, given the statements from Henry Chao, it’s doubful that the system can process payments at all in its current state, which means the actual number of ObamaCare enrollees, nationwide, might be very nearly zero. The Administration laughably included incomplete shopping cart data when it cooked up the 106,000 enrollments it formally announced, but in reality – according to the “settled law of the land,” as Democrats love to call it – enrollment doesn’t count until the first premium has been paid.
But let’s humor the Administration by taking that 106k figure on faith. There’s no way the rest of the 5 million people who lost their insurance under ObamaCare can complete enrollment in the mere ten working days that will elapse between November 30 and December 15. We’re talking about a system that still crashes under the burden of handling 25,000 users, at best. Some states are still reporting zero successful enrollments, Oregon being a notable example. We might then recall that 80 percent effectiveness is the current backpedaled best-case promise from the Administration.
So a lot of people are going to be flat out of luck, as far as recovering from Obama’s Big Lie and getting insurance in time for 2014, even assuming they’re willing to pay the sky-high premiums and deductibles. But hey, as the President’s political philosophy holds, you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette. What about the other deadlines affected by missing the “magic go, no-go date?” The death spiral facing insurance companies is going to get a lot worse if even the disappointing number of willing customers can’t get through the typhoon of Healthcare.gov failure to buy policies. If one of the “keep your plan” relief bills makes its way through Congress, and Obama doesn’t veto it, the stampede of people racing away from Kathleen Sebelius and her crap website to buy better coverage, from people who really can sell it to them, will be immense.
And looming beyond all else is the individual mandate deadline, which again is subject to some controversy, but let’s take the most generous date being bandied about, and say March 31. That’s only 169 working days from November 30. There were supposed to be at least 30 million people without insurance when ObamaCare launched, and the Big Lie added 5 million more. Back out the 106,000 people the Administration risible counts as enrollments, plus the 400,000 more who have enrolled in Medicaid. Let’s suppose the pace of Medicaid enrollments remains that high through the end of March. (It probably won’t, because the Medicaid expansion is likely to be front-loaded – the new beneficiaries are getting in early.) Let’s also assume we’ve seen the worst of the ObamaCare individual market insurance cancellations – a much larger avalanche of employer-market cancellations is coming next year, but probably not until after March.
A back-of-envelope estimate says we’d need at least 150,000 enrollees each working day to prevent a large number of Americans from getting caught in the individual mandate trap: penalized to the tune of 1 percent of their income for failure to comply with a law they could not possibly have obeyed, because the government wasn’t able to process enrollments in time. And that’s the lowest of lowball estimates. Every day that slips further past the “magic go, no-go date” makes that number higher, and therefore more unlikely. Who the heck does Kathleen Sebelius think she’s kidding?