The administration's confident, determined approach to messaging Obamacare didn't work out so well last year, at least in the sense that it was proven to be bluster totally unsupported by reality, so this year it's trying a less-aggressive strategy: Don't promise so much.
In a somewhat amusing article, Politico describes the new approach as an attempt to "undersell" the health law prior to its second open-enrollment period, which begins next month:
Gone are the promises that enrolling will be as easy as buying a plane ticket on Orbitz. The new head of HHS is not on Capitol Hill to promise that HealthCare.gov is on track. And no one is embracing Congressional Budget Office projections of total sign-up numbers.
Sobered — and burned — by last fall's meltdown of the federal website, the administration is setting expectations for the second Obamacare open enrollment period as low as possible.
Officials say the site won't be perfect but will be improved. They refuse to pinpoint how many people they plan to enroll, instead describing general goals of reducing the number of uninsured and providing a positive "customer experience" — not exactly metrics that can be immediately judged.
What this approach amounts to, then, is a refusal to publicly adopt any performance metrics by which the law and its backers might be held accountable. This administration is more or less explicit about not wanting to be judged by any hard and fast measures, instead preferring assessments based on softer, less easy-to-define standards about the customer experience. Back to Politico:
"What we have said is that the experience will be better," Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told reporters on Thursday. "It will not be perfect. We know that, and we know that there will be issues that will be raised as we go on in the process."
Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and one of the people responsible for HealthCare.gov's technology, wouldn't make any projections on how the website would operate when open enrollment begins Nov. 15.
"We are much more comfortable talking about results than expectations," Slavitt said Wednesday. "We are extremely focused on meeting our milestones. We're very focused on making sure that everyone has a good customer experience."
Judging by last year's selective approach to publishing health law data—you know, the "results" of the health care law—and the reluctance to say whether it will continue issuing similar reports on the law's outcomes this year, the administration does not seem to be particularly comfortable talking about results either.
The administration's strategy, in other words, is rather like that of a darts player who throws one against the wall, draws a target around where it stuck, and then claims to have hit a bullseye.