Obamacare Debacle Derails President's Credibility

Further evidence that government that governs best governs least.


The latest Fox News poll finds 55 percent of Americans now disapprove of President Obama's general job performance and 61 percent specifically disapprove of his health care handling, the highest numbers since they first began asking these questions in 2009. Not even during the IRS or AP scandals, NSA revelations, or Syria debacle did Obama's favorability ratings take such a hit.

President Obama's personal image has also been tainted: now a majority (52 percent) of Americans do not find the president honest or trustworthy, the highest level since Quinnipiac began asking the question. Just two years ago Obama enjoyed a +32 advantage on trust (63 to 31 percent). Moreover, most Americans (56 percent) also lack the confidence in Obama's leadership ability to effectively implement the new health care law.

Public confidence has waned not just for the president but Obama's signature health care law as well. Gallup finds support for the law is now underwater by 15 points, with 55 percent who disapprove and 40 percent who approve, the highest disapproval and approval gap since Gallup began asking the question. Perhaps one reason for this decline is that nearly six in 10 Americans believe the Obama administration purposely tried to deceive the public regarding the health care law.

These numbers are unsurprising given the inauspicious launch of the online health insurance exchanges. The administration's figures indicate they have fallen 80 percent short of predictions, with only 106,000 enrollments. Not only that but only about a quarter of these came from the 26 federally run exchanges, which have been even more glitch-ridden, than state run exchanges. The administration's economic modeling originally predicted 500,000 sign ups and they need about seven million to enroll by March. To meet this the threshold, 13 times as many people would need to sign up each month than they did in October.

This is not unbeknownst to the public; 83 percent of Americans say they have seen, read, or heard news coverage about the problems people have reported experiencing using the federal exchanges. Only 29 percent say the exchanges are working well.

The administration had promised to fix exchange website problems by November 30, as Jeff Zients former White House budget director leading the effort to fix the federal exchange websites, confirmed: "We are confident that by the end of the month of November, HealthCare.gov will operate smoothly."  Nevertheless, only 31 percent of Americans actually believe that prediction, and 69 percent are not confident the administration will fulfill their promise. In fact, a recent NBC/WSJ poll found only 37 percent believe the website problems are "short-term technical issues" that can be corrected.

Even assuming a fix by November 30th, this puts consumers on a tight timeline to purchase coverage by December 15 for policies that begin on January 1, the date by which the ACA mandates most Americans have health insurance.

Beyond glitch-ridden websites, millions of Americans have received notices their insurance policies are being canceled because they failed to meet the ACA's minimum requirements as determined by the federal government. While Obama has contended these policies were "sub par" anyway, Americans do not necessarily agree with this assessment. In fact, four times as many say the law changed their policy for the worse (21 percent) than the better (6 percent).

The millions of cancelled policies have further undermined president Obama's credibility on health care because he repeatedly promised Americans: "if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it." Indeed, the law explicitly included a 'grandfather clause' for existing policies, but as is the case with most regulation, federal officials failed to predict how the law would operate in practice. As Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner has explained, even slight changes to a grandfathered insurance policy would strip its status. 

Nevertheless, most Americans don't believe these cancelled policies were unforeseen. Instead, six in 10 say the Obama administration knew in advance that people would be kicked off their insurance policies, and half think Obama knowingly lied when he promised people they could keep their plans. Making matters worse, 58 percent think Obama only apologized for the cancellations for "political reasons" while 38 percent thought he was sincere.

The combination of cancelled policies and dysfunctional websites created the possibility that a substantial share of Americans could lose their "subpar" plans and be unable to enroll in the exchanges, putting them at risk of being fined. This is why Obama announced today an "administrative" (rather than legislative) fix aimed to delay the eventual cancellation of policies for one year.

However, insurance groups warned that such a last minute cancellation delay could risk destabilizing the market and result in higher premiums for consumers. Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans warned "If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase and there will be fewer choices for consumers." In other words, delaying cancellations could deter the youngest and healthiest Americans from obtaining insurance on the exchange, and as Politico writes: "free them of helping to foot the bill for everyone else."

One needn't be partisan to recognize that implementation of the federal health care law has been a mess thus far. The mess cannot simply be blamed on Republican sabotage or the Republican governors, as has been suggested. Instead, Americans place responsibility on the Obama administration (39 percent) and the contractors who designed the exchange websites (20 percent); only 4 percent blame Republican governors and 11 percent blame Congressional Republicans.

Altogether, the implementation debacle has resulted in Americans being as likely to trust Republicans with handling health care as Obama (43 to 42 percent respectively). This is particularly astounding for three reasons. First, Obama used to enjoy a +20 point advantage in 2009 before the law passed when the public trusted him 53 to 33 to handle health care policy. Second, just a few weeks, ago the Republican Party brand tanked during the shutdown, with favorability sinking to its lowest levels in decades. And lastly, health care has traditionally been a Democratic "owned" issue.

The key issue at stake here is trust, or a lack of it. Remaking the health care system—no matter the noble intentions—is a significant task and one that requires the public to have a high level of confidence in government's efficacy. These recent poll numbers clearly indicate Obama and his administration have suffered a severe blow to their credibility. Americans are skeptical not only of the administration's efficacy but its integrity to be honest with them.

Circumstances like these undermine the president's contention that Americans should "reject these voices" that "incessantly warn of government." While the current issue at hand is not a malicious power grab, it surely demonstrates the limits to what government as an institution is capable of doing, lending further credence to the idea that a government that governs best governs least.