Despite the Affordable Care Act’s status as the Obama administration’s signature legislative accomplishment, persistent glitches continue to plague the law’s online enrollment website weeks after its October 1st launch – even after assurances from the Department of Health and Human Services this Sunday that a “Tech Surge” involving the private sector's best and brightest was underway to salvage Healthcare.gov.
All that glitters is not gold
While speaking with Bill Bennett on Philadelphia’s 990 AM WNTP this Tuesday, founding Editor of National Affairs Yuval Levin shared his own doubts that recruiting talent from Silicon Valley would prove a panacea for what ails ObamaCare’s enrollment website.
“What’s going to happen is they’re going to get eaten alive at meetings where they find out that they have to live by thousands of little tiny bureaucratic rules that they never imagined before. And they’re just going to cause a delay in solving this rather than fixing it. I don’t think you can combine the kind of innovative attitude of Silicon Valley with the kind of bureaucratic attitude of Washington. Each of them can achieve things but I don’t think they work together very well.” Levin said.
Moreover, Levin insisted that persistent website failures will exacerbate existential flaws built into the state insurance exchanges. He explained that ObamaCare created a separate insurance market for the uninsured in the hopes that enrollment of large numbers of the young and healthy who remain uninsured by choice would subsidize the cost of insuring the sick now covered under the Affordable Care Act.
“The trouble is that relies on a lot of healthy people getting coverage, a lot of people who now, before ObamaCare, don’t get coverage. And yet at the same time it also makes that coverage less appealing to those people by making it more expensive and actually by making it less valuable by reducing the risk of being uninsured through the new insurance rules that says you can get coverage when you’re sick.” Levin warned.
“Right – why not wait?” Bennett elaborated.
“Yeah, exactly, so it’s always been a system that economically doesn’t make a lot of sense. These technical problems are making that a lot worse because it’s much more likely that sick people are wading through all these problems to get coverage than it is that healthy people are working through it all.” Levin continued.
Levin also touched on the true number of Americans unable to obtain health insurance after being prompted by one caller skeptical of the figures commonly cited during debates over healthcare reform.
“The number you hear kicked around a lot is about fifty million people without insurance. What that number is, is the number of people who during last year at some point didn’t have insurance. At any particular point the number of people who don’t have coverage is much lower than that. It’s closer to fifteen or eighteen million people. And…some of those people are eligible for Medicaid or other things. Some of them just don’t buy insurance because they don’t want to – they’re young, maybe they’re stupid – they don’t want insurance.” Levin stated.
“So the number of people who actually can’t get insurance because they can’t afford it is a much lower number. It’s certainly still too high for our country and there are things we can do about it. But I think ObamaCare is in one sense a vast overreaction and in another a very bad idea about how to set up the economics of healthcare. But it’s certainly true the debate is moved by a number that just doesn’t mean what you think it means.” he added.
Individual mandate over open sights
The shoddy rollout of ObamaCare’s state exchanges has cast a spotlight on the law’s mandate that individuals purchase health insurance – arguably the most controversial aspect of the Affordable Care Act.
While speaking with Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes on October 14th, former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan addressed this topic at the tail end of the bruising government shutdown battle to defund ObamaCare this October. Though he downplayed the notion of the Obama administration taking on the issue during the shutdown fight, Ryan expressed tempered optimism that the White House would ultimately delay the mandate.
“Why would we tax individuals on a mandate that can’t even be enforced? The government has already told us they don’t even know how to enforce this individual mandate this year but we’re going to make people pay a tax for that?” Ryan pressed.
Former Congressman Allen West (R-FL) shared his own opinion of the individual mandate as well as the haphazard launch of the Affordable Care Act’s state insurance exchanges with Laura Ingraham on Philadelphia’s 1180 AM WFYL this Tuesday. The Tea Party favorite admitted he would have preferred Republicans focused on ObamaCare’s special exemptions and delaying rather than defunding the law while the GOP jousted with the White House over the government shutdown, but he also emphasized that the clash was “an important stand to make.”
Ingraham went on to ask how the Tea Party might move forward and “put points on the board” given it lacks sufficient numbers in Congress to reverse ObamaCare.
“I think you have to pick those narrow issues, those narrow places where you can find victories. I mean look, now all of a sudden people are talking about ‘how do you delay the implementation of the individual mandate’, something that is very important. If you’re going to delay the employer mandate the individual mandate should be delayed. And now because of the failures of the website that’s something that’s being thrust out there. It’s something that’s clearly evident…” – West answered, going on to cite the prospect of hiring additional IRS agents and repealing the medical device tax as well as urging the GOP to stand firm on the budget cuts it won under sequestration.
Rubio joins the fray
Speaking with Hugh Hewitt on Philadelphia’s WNTP 990 AM later Tuesday evening, prospective 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio slammed the Obama administration’s handling of the failure of the Affordable Care Act’s state insurance exchanges. The Florida senator observed that in addition to the rollout snafus already covered by the media, the Spanish language version of the law’s enrollment website was still not operational.
Rubio also touted his own proposal to delay the law’s individual mandate until the Government Accountability Office has certified the online insurance exchanges are working properly, remarking, “Look, I just view this not even as a partisan thing. I think this is a common sense thing. I mean, how are you going to go out and tell people that they’re going to owe the IRS money if they don’t buy insurance, but yet the website where they’re supposed to buy the insurance on isn’t working? So I think this is just an issue of fairness and common sense. And I hope it’s something that we can get bipartisan support for. I can’t imagine there’d be a reason to be against this.”
The GOP could sharpen the political efficacy of the “fairness” argument that Rubio articulated by turning the Obama administration’s class warfare rhetoric on its head. For example, House Republicans might reframe the issue by immediately passing legislation to waive ObamaCare’s individual mandate for those earning less than $250,000 a year.
The Affordable Care Act’s state exchanges were never focused on servicing the wealthy. And the law’s proponents will likely resist the move since the overwhelming majority of the young and healthy the Obama administration is targeting fall below this tax bracket. Moreover, the progressive bent of the U.S. tax code works against the law’s liberal supporters since setting a $250,000 cut off point effectively amounts to the elimination (or perhaps delay) of the individual mandate.
Politically, this move would pressure the White House by highlighting that this legislation broke President Obama’s commitment to raise taxes only on the rich and disrupt its 2014 campaign themes about taxing “big corporations” and “millionaires and billionaires.” Furthermore, opposing such a vote would force congressional Democrats to run on raising taxes on “working families” in places like “the Philadelphia suburbs” even if President Obama unilaterally delays the individual mandate at some point in the future.
At any rate, whatever political machinations the future may hold one thing is clear: ObamaCare’s technical shortcomings refute its critics’ allegations that the endeavor is a train wreck.
After all, locomotives typically manage to pull out of the station before they crash.
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