Saying that the Affordable Care Act's first few weeks have taken a toll on the Obama administration is understatement. The bad news for the administration is that HealthCare.gov's software problems are just the tip of a nasty iceberg.
The optics of computer screens with messages saying that the system is down have sent the message that the administration isn't competent. The optics of the website being down will soon be replaced by another optic that might last longer.
During this morning's press conference, a woman almost fainted as she stood directly behind President Obama. President Obama quickly responded that "that's what happens when I talk too much." Later, a woman from the back of the group helped the woman who almost fainted.
While it wouldn't be fair to say President Obama caused this woman to get ill, it's certainly fair to say that the optics and substance of the Affordable Care Act are troubling at best. Some of the Affordable Care Act's staunchest supporters are bailing on the administration, starting with Ezra Klein:
The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein warned that the Obama administration is underplaying the problems facing its online exchanges by simply labeling them “glitches.” Ironically, according to Klein, the websites’ incapacity to handle Internet traffic is actually preventing users from encountering what may be the sites’ biggest problem.
“These aren’t glitches,” Klein said on Morning Joe on Monday. “The website, to a first approximation, simply isn’t working.”
He explained that the more fixable problem facing the website was dealing with traffic. The bigger problem, according to Klein, was whether the right information was being sent to insurers after users enroll, including messages that users hadn’t yet enrolled even if they had.
“That is a problem, I think, that the Obama administration is and should be worried about,” he said.
Ron Fournier went further, saying that the administration should be freaked out at this point:
This is the easy part. Finding and motivating people to take action online is the founding strength of Team Obama. This is what they do best. Managing a complex law is a different matter, and it's fair to question whether the president and his team are up to it.
How do you convince healthy young Americans to pay for insurance they may not need in order to fund the program? Do companies shed workers and working hours to avoid coming under the law? Are people with cheap catastrophic plans forced to pay more in the exchanges? Tricky questions likes these will soon make the hard art of website design look like fingerpainting. "The online federal health care exchange, the heart of the Obamacare project, is such a rolling catastrophe that it may end up creating a major policy fiasco immediately rather than eventually," wrote Ross Douthat in a New York Times column titled, "Obamacare, Failing Ahead of Schedule."
There's no truer statement than saying that first impressions are lasting impressions. The longer it takes to fix the HealthCare.gov website, the better the opportunity this will present Republicans to credibly make the case that the government doesn't have the expertise to manage the health care system.
The longer the website, not just logging in, isn't functioning properly, the easier it will be to believe that the Affordable Care Act should be scrapped and replaced with something that's functional, cheaper and reliable.