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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Editorials

Obama short-circuits his own health plan

Published:

The continuing troubles with the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment website rest squarely on President Obama’s shoulders.

The administration had years to prepare a website for enrollment in the president’s health care law. This was not one of those presidential problems that arrive in a phone call at 3 a.m.

Yet the administration, because of its own incompetence, finds itself in crisis mode. Thousands of potential enrollees are being blocked or frustrated into submission because of technical glitches and a flawed decision to require registration before visitors are allowed to shop for the best insurance plan.

As a result, Obama’s grand vision of affordable health care for all Americans is now being hindered by computer problems. That seems unthinkable considering enrollment in the health insurance exchanges is critical to the success of his signature legislative achievement.

If the problems persist, Obama needs to extend the enrollment period beyond the March 31 deadline, or exempt people from the penalties associated with failing to have insurance. After all, big businesses were granted an extension when they complained about a lack of time to prepare for a reporting requirement in the new law.

Obama’s press conference in the Rose Garden this week offered few answers to what went wrong, or to how successful or unsuccessful enrollment has been to this date.

He preferred to sing the praises of his deeply flawed health care law and, of course, take a shot at Republicans who oppose the law.

He downplayed the importance of the exchanges, even though the administration has said for months that they are critical to the law’s success. For the law to succeed the exchanges must attract healthy young enrollees, who are generally tech savvy and more inclined to participate online.

Having major technical glitches at a time of optimal interest in the process is no way to persuade healthy young people to commit to the program.

Obama’s assurances that the “best and the brightest” from the public and private sector were being summoned to fix the problems were tempered by the administration’s unwillingness to identify the companies and the people coming to the rescue.

Some Republicans are calling for the firing of the administration’s front person on its health care exchanges, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

A Wall Street Journal article cites statements by a contractor working on the website that claim some of the problems are a result of last-minute changes dictated by an HHS agency. It also cites documents claiming the Obama administration was behind the decision to require visitors to register before browsing the site, and that the decision was made within a month of the website’s launch.

Sebelius has agreed to testify next week before a congressional committee. She should come prepared with specific answers to questions about the rate of participation in the exchanges, who decided to require that potential enrollees register before shopping on the website, and who is responsible for the administration finding itself in this mess.

At the Rose Garden gathering this week, Obama said “no one is madder than me” about the technical problems that are further complicating one of the most complicated laws in U.S. history.

But we can think of thousands of people who might be angrier. They are the ones who tried to sign up for the president’s health care law and found he could not deliver on his promise of easy access to affordable health care.

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