The Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last got a good grilling in Congress about the Obamacare debacle. But if she were the CEO of a company, she might have faced not Congress but a grand jury for launching an unsafe product without proper testing based on a fraudulent sales pitch and misleading information.
Sebelius has admitted that Healthcare.gov—the federal online shopping exchange that is the lynchpin of the program—required one year of successful testing before launch. Instead it got two weeks of failed testing. If an automaker had knowingly put a vehicle on the road without appropriate crash tests, this administration, the self-appointed guardian of consumers, would have taken it to the mat.
But just like a defective car, Obamacare's defective exchange is not just a nuisance; it will destabilize the health insurance industry and jeopardize coverage. Yet the administration's march to enforce its law continues unabated.
The "glitches" in the exchange, many fear, will accelerate Obamacare's insurance death spiral. The folks who'll take the trouble to sign up will be the sick and poor who qualify for subsidies. The rest—especially the young invincibles—will likely go elsewhere, forcing them to raise rates.
But because Obamacare bars participating companies from offering different prices to their exchange and non-exchange customers, these rates will go up for all their customers. This will allow non-participating competitors—that face no similar stricture—to bid away their healthier and wealthier customers.
The participating companies will then face this choice: Stay in the exchange and risk extinction or quit. Either way, exchange patients will have fewer choices and pricier plans compared to non-exchange patients—defeating the whole purpose of Obamacare.
To head off this dynamic, the administration has engaged in what can only be described as deception.
The exchange initially wouldn't let people even window shop without first submitting their income information so that it could offer them subsidized quotes and prevent them from walking away in sticker shock. But when this crashed the website, the administration switched tactics.
The exchange lumped all shoppers into two groups—those under 49 and those over 50. The first group got quotes based on what a healthy 27-year-old would pay and the older group what a 50-year-old pay. The actual prices for specific policies obtained from the websites of insurance companies were much higher, prompting an expert interviewed by CBS, which broke the story, to call this feature "incredibly misleading."
But the administration's lies don't end there.
President Obama had been claiming till as recently as last year that his law would force no one to give up coverage. "If you like your plan, you can keep it." But the administration's own internal communication shows that it knew back in 2010 that 12 to 93 million policy holders might well lose their policies.
That's when Sebelius issued regulations grandfathering policies so long as they didn't change. If insurers so much as inflation-adjusted premiums, they lost their protected status, becoming subject to Obamacare's mandates requiring them to cover everything from maternity services for elderly couples to drug rehab for teetotalers.
All of this prompted even Washington Post's "fact" checkers this week to give Obama Four Pinocchios.
The whole point of Obamacare—aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—was to protect patients from greedy insurers who lure them when they are healthy only to use some arcane fine print to jack prices or dump them when they fall sick.
But the administration has engaged in similar subterfuge, showing that the profit motive is not the only corrupter in human affairs. Partisanship, ideology and—above all—a president's need to leave a legacy are even more so.
When companies put profits ahead of people, the government can go after them for fraud and falsehood. But what should people do when the government puts politics ahead of people?
Don't ask this president because Obama-don't-care.
This column was originally published in the Washington Examiner