For a sense of how poorly the rollout of Obamacare's exchanges is being received even amongst people predisposed to being supportive of the law, it's instructive to compare USA Today's harsh Obamacare editorial today to the hopeful one it posted a week before the exchanges went live.
At the end of the month, the paper's editorial board posted an editorial touting the availability of affordable coverage for all in just a week's time. "Glitches are inevitable," the piece warned. But it reminds readers that Medicare Part D went through a rocky implementation and rollout too, and it's quite popular now. "Maybe that's what ObamaCare's critics really fear," the unsigned editorial declared, "that once people realize the non-stop demonization of the new health law has been mostly lies and exaggerations."
Today's editorial is not so forgiving. Headlined, "Exchange launch turns into inexcusable mess," it says the exchanges amount to "an epic screw up." The piece goes on to make the comparison to Medicare Part D once again. And this time it's not so friendly.
President Obama's chief technology adviser, Todd Park, blames the unexpectedly large numbers of people who flocked to Healthcare.gov and state websites. "Take away the volume and it works," he told USA TODAY's Tim Mullaney.
That's like saying that except for the torrential rain, it's a really nice day. Was Park not listening to the administration's daily weather report predicting Obamacare's popularity?
Park said the administration expected 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users. It got 250,000. Compare that with the similarly rocky debut seven years ago of exchanges to obtain Medicare drug coverage. The Bush administration projected 20,000 simultaneous users and built capacity for 150,000.
That's the difference between competence and incompetence.
You know things are bad when Obamacare supporters are arguing that the Bush administration was more competent—on health care—than its Democratic successor.
And then there's last night's interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on The Daily Show. Host Jon Stewart, a universal coverage supporter (he prefers single payer), began the session with an open laptop and a challenge: "I'm going to try and download every movie ever made, and you're going to try to sign up for Obamacare, and we'll see which happens first."
Later, Stewart pressed Sebelius on why the administration delayed the employer mandate to provide health coverage to workers—but not the law's individual mandate to buy qualifying insurance for oneself. She dodges the question until finally, exasperated, Stewart asks: "Am I a stupid man?"
You can watch the whole interview online here.
Part of what's notable about both The Daily Show and USA Today is that they are essentially populist outlets—news delivery channels for people who are not necessarily intense consumers of news. But despite their favorable predisposition toward the law, the disastrous rollout has made them not only critical, but skeptical, and prone to distrusting the administration's official explanations.
After Sebelius left, Stewart continued to wonder over why the employer mandate could be easily delayed, but the individual mandate could not. Her explanation, he told his viewers, didn't make any sense. "Then I think to myself: Maybe she's just lying to me?" If Stewart is giving voice to this thought, he's probably not the only health law supporter who is having it.