Obamacare Survives

The health law keeps failing-but stays alive anyway.


Credit: Whitehouse.gov

A year ago, if you had talked to either critics or supporters of Obamacare, most would have predicted that by this time, the heated controversy over the law would be winding down, and the success or failure of the law would be more or less plain for all to see. Either it would be firmly entrenched in the nation's policy firmament, with millions of Americans about to happily enjoy new health coverage, or it would be on its way out, a longtime political loser finally getting the boot it has so long deserved. The controversy might not have disappeared entirely, but the verdict would be clear.

What neither side would have predicted was that the rollout would have gone so badly—and that the law would still be hanging on anyway, surviving, day by day and news cycle by news cycle, its political future and policy success as uncertain now as ever.

In broad strokes, the disastrous launch has vindicated the law's critics. Although few predicted all the specific problems the law would have, the rollout was, if anything, worse than most dared to imagine. Almost nothing has gone well for the health law in 2013, which was supposed to be the year that its biggest benefits were introduced to the public. The first nine months of the year were marked by a series of delays: key provisions of the small business exchange, income verification requirements, and the employer mandate were all postponed. Democratic legislators voiced their growing anxieties about the exchange implementation process behind closed doors at the White House, and occasionally in public as well

The administration dismissed such concerns, but in the last three months of the year, the skeptics were proved right. In October, the online health insurance exchanges that were supposed to be central to the law's expanded coverage scheme didn't go live so much as show up dead on arrival: The federal exchange covering 36 states barely worked at all, and more than a third of the 15 states running their own exchanges had significant problems.

There was no question about it: The administration had failed—and they had failed despite scaling back the project's scope via multiple delays, and despite leaving some 30 to 40 percent of the project incomplete.

By December, the worst of the federal website problems had been corrected, leaving just a handful of state-run exchanges with serious technical troubles. But by then, huge damage had been done. By bungling the initial execution of an already unpopular law, the administration had confirmed the public's wariness about the law, and about the federal government's ability to deploy large-scale social projects in general.

Even with the most serious website glitches patched, another issue remained: Millions of Americans with individual health policies had received cancellation notices as a result of the law. Some still couldn't get through the website gauntlet to purchase new insurance. And many of those who could found that their new plan options were more expensive, and worse overall, than their previous plans.

The law was frustrating millions of ordinary people. It was also a political disaster, since President Obama had pitched the law on the promise that people who liked their existing health plans could keep them. In response, the administration resorted to series of deadline delays and administrative tweaks: allowing individual health plans to extend by a year with the permission of state regulators, delaying the final day to sign up for January coverage not once but twice, and exempting those with canceled individual policies from the individual mandate's penalty next year.

Those changes, often announced with timing that made it seem as if the administration was none too eager to draw attention to its decisions, added to the sense that the administration was navigating without a map or a compass. And they made the specific details of the law itself seem like afterthoughts, as if the legal niceties hardly mattered.

It was a total catastrophe—a mess on a personal, political, and policy level.

It's almost impressive how poorly the Obama administration managed the start of its signature achievement. What many envisioned as American liberalism's crowning modern achievement looked instead like something out of a Marx Brothers movie—a comedy of errors, with each glitch leading to another larger failure.

Equally impressive, however, is the law's staying power, at least so far. Liberal activists are weary, but still hopeful. Democrats in Congress are anxious and watchful, but only a few have started to defect. And the administration remains as firm in its defenses of the law as ever, even as the president's poll numbers sag, and long-soft support for the law grows softer still.

What Obamacare has proven this year is not that it can work, but that it can survive, not so much as a specific legislative initiative, but as a policy idea and a political vision. Whether it can do more than that will require another year, at least, to know for sure.

NEXT: Analysts: Obamacare Could Start Resembling Medicaid in Limited Availability of Doctors

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  1. The ACA will survive because the Democrat party will not countenance any talk of repeal. The implication of repeal is that the Lightbringer was wrong about something; therefore, it cannot happen.

    And the people harmed by the ACA are people that the Democrat party wants to harm. They actively, specifically and purposefully seek to harm the able, the employed, and the thrifty for the benefit of the infirm, the idle, and the profligate. So why should they care about the impact of the ACA to date? To them, it’s been doing God’s work.

    1. I honestly can’t see Democrats ever jumping on board to repeal the ACA. And a good lot of those who will be/are being directly harmed by it will probably just shrug it off, thinking their paying a higher price for worse coverage means someone somewhere is being helped. Guilt will always be a reliable source from where the Democrats can draw support for their destructive policies.

      1. If they are getting beat up bad enough during the coming campaign season, Dems will start jumping ship.

        1. Indeed. The Blue Dogs and Dems who have to run in swing seats are going to jump ship if it gets bad enough; party discipline has (mostly) held thus far but cannot do so indefinitely.

        2. R C Dean|12.26.13 @ 1:47PM|#
          “If they are getting beat up bad enough during the coming campaign season, Dems will start jumping ship.”

          The media is doing its best to avoid any such problems:
          “Although multiple problems have snarled the rollout of President Obama’s signature health care law, it’s hardly the first time a new, sprawling government program has been beset by early technical glitches, political hostility and gloom-and-doom denouncements.”
          Don’t worry, be happy, vote D!

        3. I don’t see how Republican opponents will not be able to totally bludgeon Democrats with Obamacare.

          This nightmare is seriously hammering the shit out of the middle class. This law is costing me personally, $3000 more next year (and its just getting started) and I’m furious. I imagine that there will be legions of middle class voters who have had their pocketbooks raped that will be looking far and wide for Democrats to punish.

          In my lifetime, I have not seen a law that has done this much damage to the middle class. Outrage and loss of political office to those that crafted this should be doled out judiciously to those responsible.

          1. Someone said that, after OCare goes fully into effect, we’ll be hunting Democrats with dogs.

            Or words to that effect.

            I can dream.

            1. and will you represent me when I go to court for this kind of behavior.

            2. after OCare goes fully into effect

              Will it ever?

          2. The law is not going to affect millions of people who will be herded to the expanded medicaid program. They’ll reason “mediocre coverage is better than no coverage at all”.

            Not that many people got health insurance from their job, so they won’t know the pain of losing coverage.

            The middle class who are royally screwed by the ACA is comfortably outnumbered by the takers who theoretically benefit from it. These people won’t turn on their masters unless the next prediction comes true – crowded hospitals and erosion of healthcare quality. Let’s all act surprised if it does happen.

      2. They’ve got the media to spin things later, so it’s not really so bad. People forget.

        1. *Ding* I can’t believe anyone is surprised the law survives even with all of its glorious failure. Just another case demonstrating that government is worse than mold. Once it’s established it’s virtually impossible to remove.

        2. Every month they’ll pay an extra $300. That they won’t forget. Progressives want you to pay, not them.

    2. It will also survive because people like Suderman raked certain GOP members over the coals for trying to kill it off.

      How can he be surprised its in this middle state when he specifically supported the middle state?

      1. Well, there’s that, too. Way too many, even in the “alt” media, fell for the Obama PR from day one. First, the idea that this was inevitable. Then, the idea that once it passed the Constitutional challenge was laughable. And the idea that repealing such a program was a total non-starter.

        And, finally, the idea that the real danger to opposing it was that once it went live, it would just work so well everyone would love it.

        Yeah, journalists. Those incorrigible skeptics.

  2. President Obama refers to his threesome with Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Pelosi as “Crossing the Desert.”

    1. “Crossing the streams*”

      And we have the subject of a new NutraSweet story.

      * golden streams

      1. “On Golden Ponds”

        The Sequel

        1. “Two and a Half Men”

          1. “Two and a Half Men”

            +1 money, but only fiat money.

      2. Way to go Epi. I left you wide open to make a perfectly adequate Simpsons reference, but instead you chose to ruin a subtle joke with your vulgar pee obsession. All in all an utterly Episiarchian response.

        1. Simpsons references are so 1996, Hugh. You’re like Clueless except you don’t look like young Alicia Silverstone.

          1. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that movie, so instead of a cleverly referenced comeback, you get nothing.

        2. “The Paddling of the Wrinkled Ass” didn’t work for you Hugh?

    2. That is some weapons-grade bleurgh.

  3. What neither side would have predicted was that the rollout would have gone so badly

    This is the kicker. Many of us have been pointing out the administration’s incompetence for some time, but none of us called how much of a clusterfuck the rollout would be. And the funny thing is that we should have–a technological rollout by megalomaniacal bureaucrats whose own technical knowledge is laughable would obviously be a disaster–but I think even we were fooled by thinking “no one can be that unbelievably incompetent”. Except we have now seen that they can.

    This is a new level of incompetence, even for the government. We’re in uncharted territory here. We have the combination of a sweeping, barely-made-it-past-SCOTUS law that creates the idea of “penaltax” while being dependent on a website that still doesn’t work, and people will be penalized for not being able to get product from the non-working website. People are losing their insurance that they were told they could keep.

    I really don’t know how this is going to shake out, because we don’t have a good historical example to compare against. The government has always been incompetent, but we’re seeing a new level here.

    1. What neither side would have predicted was that the rollout would have gone so badly

      Oh, I dunno. Maybe the partisan lackwits never said as much, but there has been plenty of inside-the-biz chatter since day one about how there was no frickin’ way that website was gonna work.

      1. Exactly.

        I thought we pretty much had discussed that well before Oct 1.

      2. There’s “the website has problems”, there’s “the website has serious problems”, and there’s “the website doesn’t fucking work…at all”.

        The first two are something you might see in the private sector in a more incompetent situation, but since you never see the third, nobody expected it. It’s that particular extra level of government incompetence that wasn’t expected (though it should have been). It can only exist because there are no consequences.

        1. I will say this: the general tone of the chatter was that there was no way it would work by 10/01, and so the launch would be pushed back.

          The unprecedented level of incompetence was going live with something that was basically a trade-show demo.

        2. Okay, will agree with that. I didnt expect the complete failure it was. The inability to enroll anyone.

          Because no one in their fucking right mind would let it roll out that way.

          1. Bingo. The website was totally broken, and the administration acted like they didn’t even know it.

            That requires a special disconnect from reality.

        3. Yeah.

          When Apple has an issue rolling out new technology, generally they have it fixed and addressed in a week or to ?. to the point that it actually now functions.

          Nearly two months later, the Obamacare site’s gotten to the point that sometimes it LOADS correctly for people, but is still very difficult to navigate through successfully.

    2. Technically, Epi, I don’t think the government is any less competent than its been, by and large.

      What they are is more megalomaniacal, applying their baseline level of incompetence to much bigger projects.

      The only caveat might be that this administration is so wrapped up in cronyism that they can’t even outsource to a competent company, preferring instead to give contracts to proven losers who have the right connections.

      1. Part of not being incompetent is hiding your existing incompetence. The government is actually usually pretty good at that because it has a monopoly. But with Obamacare, they threw the veil wide open and exposed unfathomable incompetence for all to see. It’s a new level, just in terms of exposure alone.

        1. Epi, I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree.

          I think its mega-incompetence, you think its hyper-incompetence. So be it.

          1. It’s like the difference between MEGA-AIDS and hyper-AIDS. Warty has the former, and NutraSweet has the latter.

    3. Pretty much. The size and scope of this are unparalleled. What’s amazing to me is that they didn’t simply mandate all this crap and then toss it on the insurance companies – let them figure out the implementation. Their hubris and their desire for control were such that they thought they had to build the website themselves.

      I think this is going to be close to the Soviet collectivization of agriculture level fucked.

      1. I can see how this happens. The government kids bought into the kool-aid that they were just as smart as the people who work at Apple, so they could just as easily run the website.

    4. The government has always been incompetent, but we’re seeing a new level here.

      I think that’s because there exists a direct correlation between size of government and government incompetence.

      1. I suspect that you have just come up with a new law of nature! Well done!

    5. No we knew it was going to be fucked up but said little about it because who knows it might work and if we said it wouldn’t and it ended up working we would look like idiots.

      Hell even today if you say it is not working you still get called a tea bagging racist rethugarian.

    6. Many of us have been pointing out the administration’s incompetence for some time, but none of us called how much of a clusterfuck the rollout would be. And the funny thing is that we should have–a technological rollout by megalomaniacal bureaucrats whose own technical knowledge is laughable would obviously be a disaster–but I think even we were fooled by thinking “no one can be that unbelievably incompetent”

      Even I didn’t think they were hapless as this. But after several days of Clowncare clownery post 10/1 I was like “Alright, I’m curious about how this pig works.” and started digging into the mess, technically speaking.

      First thing I looked up was Clowncare’s API. Figured I’d see if I could REST/POST it all and see if https/SSL was working on the money-personal-data part via some payload via XML or (if they were cutting edge) JSON.

      Within five minutes of that, I realized Clowncare just had no API at all to begin with. That’s when I just started laughing and reached for the bong.

      Wow, I mean just…wow.

  4. This thing will not be repealed for a long time. Congress may vote to repeal it, but that will take a majority GOP in congress to do. Even then, the POTUS will veto it, and we won’t see another GOP president until at least 2020.

    Instead it will just sort of hang around and will constantly be delayed, changed, and distorted to the point that it is nearly unrecognizable as the originally passed law. All by the executive.

    The current crop of sociopaths in control of our federal government are incapable of admitting a mistake, and they have not a care in the world as to what harm it may cause to millions of people and our economy.

    1. and we won’t see another GOP president until at least 2020.

      I’m not as sure about this part as you. I think opinion is against the Dems enough that if the Repubs can run someone that offers a clear alternative to the Dems populist socialism that isn’t focused on kulture warz… ok, I see what you’re saying.

      1. The GOP will ostracize any potential winner, such as Rand Paul, and make sure that a big government progressive gets the nomination.

        Then the same simple minded sheep that gave us 8 years of Obama, will give us Hillary. You know, because she’d be like the first female prez, and that’s so cool!

        1. You’re simple minded if you think Hillary is anything other than DOA in ’16.

          All the recent failures of Hillary and the leftoids are well-known. But you seem to take it for granted that all the women will vote for Hillary; don’t you know anything about women? Women are the last constituency who would turn out to vote for a lady President.

          Hillary’s sole voter base would consist of beta males, who are already democrats and lefties anyway.

    2. If they get big enough majority, they can tell the presidential veto to go fuck itself. Only thing the Republicans would overreach, wanting to impeach the president, and even as much as I dislike him, it would be bad PR to impeach the first black president.

  5. Alt-alt-text

    1)And they all had a merry Christmas.

    2)”Ladies, why don’t we go back to my room. I’ve got plenty of Actonel and Rheumatrex to go around.”

    Idk, that second one could be worded better, but it’s Dec 26th and no one is getting my best work today.

  6. Dayam, look at Barry the player. Tell me you wouldn’t want to be the soap in that shower.

  7. Perhaps it should be called Zombiecare.

  8. “Mass becomes immobile; it cannot manoeuvre and therefore cannot win victories, it can only crush by sheer weight.” – Hans von Seeckt

    1. Sehr gut. Nicht von mein kluge Hans aber gut.

  9. Sometimes man you jsut have to roll with it.


  10. “Liberal activists are weary”? Or “Liberal activists are wary”?

  11. Democrats will jump ship because politicians will French kiss a vulture if it means a single vote. We know Democrats are all in favor of any give away program so long as the cost is paid by somebody else, but now all the young, affluent Dems are going to find they are expected to pay for the riders tickets, and they will jump ship themselves. Their politicians will go with them.

  12. Of course it is surviving…it’s the LAW. Until it is repealed or drastically changed to actually function it will limp along wreaking havoc as it has…what do we expect when laws are passed by people who don’t even read it or even debate it….

  13. People are pro far too many things for which they are not willing to pay. I like this law. It shows people right away, in their pocketbooks, how much a freeloader costs them.

    Right now 40% of people work for government in some form or another. Another swath used to work for government and are now collecting pensions. 10% of people have never worked, and another chunk are underworking and cadging the system.

    And, look at how many laws are there just to impede and slow down some aspect of business. I’m spending two years to take a building through the zoning process, to build a rental building which everyone says we need. Public hearings, committee meetings, neighborhood meetings, and on and on.

    All this means things aren’t produced or built, our wealth decreases, costs of essentials go up, unemployment increases. But, the average person, who approves wholeheartedly of all these impediments wonders why he or his children can’t get jobs.

    Obamacare is the frontier. This is the government program that really shows people how messed up government is. Front and center, and you pay for it right away in the form of increased premiums and increased deductibles.

    If the average person does not get it after this, then we’re sunk.

  14. The last paragraph speaks volumes of what is at the center of what’s wrong with big government. It doesn’t matter if legislation fails or even if it makes matters worse, what’s important to big government activists is that the government makes legislation. Progressives see government as an extension of their “good intentions” and that’s all this is about. It’s intellectually and morally backward.

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  16. The ACA is a success already because the excessive profits that insurance companies made were repaid to a bunch of people.
    The ACA is a success already because the sick can get insurance.
    The ACA is a success already because there are no lifetime limits on what you have to pay when you get sick. And all you have to pay out of pocket in a given year is a little over $6000. That’s wonderful if you have to be in the hospital for more than a couple of days.
    The ACA is a success already because the corrupt practices of the medical insurance industry are now illegal.
    Wow, that’s a lot already.

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