Obamacare and the betrayal of faith
posted at 7:31 pm on October 18, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham
Ezra Klein, Washington Post blogger and prominent Obamacare supporter, discussed a particularly pernicious Obamacare glitch today on MSNBC. If, as we’ve learned, the insurance companies are getting bad information from the exchanges, who’s to say the few people who are able to get through the system to buy the expensive new insurance they’re required by law to buy actually have an insurance policy? What if it didn’t occur to you to spend another hour with the insurance company’s customer service to double-check your purchase after the four tries and 7 hours you spent getting through the federal exchange? What if you then got sick and it turns out Aetna got the wrong info or no info at all about you from the exchange?
EZRA KLEIN: […] So the website is communicating with different parts of the federal government, the IRS, the social security administration. It’s getting all this data about you so it can say what is your subsidy, how much will you ultimately be paying for healthcare insurance. It isn’t clear if all of that data is coming through correctly. Also more worryingly, if anything, that the data then to the insurer, you go and buy a plan from Aetna or Cigna or Blue Cross or whoever, that website needs to communicate that you bought this plan and what you bought correctly with the insurer. We’re hearing widespread reports of that data coming in wrong, garbled, glitchy, people being disenrolled accidentally. If that keeps happening, that is actually the most dangerous of all the glitches. Because it’s one thing if you can’t get in, it’s a little but of a no harm no foul except that you lost some time and are annoyed. But if you sign up for something and then you actually don’t have it when you get sick or you don’t have the right thing when you get sick, that is a huge betrayal of faith.
On the ground, Obamacare’s unintended but utterly predictable consequences are actively hurting people left and right, causing them to lose insurance, forcing them to buy new insurance they can’t afford, and generally breaking promises. This kind of broken promise comes straight from the exchange and can’t be blamed on meanies who own small businesses or meanies who sell insurance.
But let’s talk about the notion of a betrayal of faith. It is the supremely ironic legacy of the President Obama era that faith in government institutions is at all-time lows. He promised to fix the way Washington worked, and he didn’t. He told America that his mere presence at the head of the federal government was reason to believe fervently it could do “big things,” to put faith in the feds to solve big problems. Stimulus, the green non-economy, and attempts at climate change legislation and immigration reform are all expressions of that top-down philosophy, but Obamacare was to be its big moment. We were going to do big things again, and by we I mean the federal government.
Obamacare’s obvious, blundering, incompetent failure to launch, which is already endangering its entire design, is a betrayal of the trust Obama asked us to have in big government. If there is one thing Obama has communicated during his years as president, it’s that the government— his government— should be trusted to make life better for American citizens and anyone who says otherwise is worthy of scorn and suspicion. As he put it in a commencement speech at Ohio State University:
Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
How could he have blown this so completely?
There are already a chorus of voices attempting to separate this utter failure of liberal ideology from liberal ideology.
In an otherwise great piece by reporter and Obamacare supporter Jeff Young, the problem is the website, and the website is ruining Obamacare. Yes, and in “The Jerk,” the sniper hated the cans.
A broken website imperils the largest expansion of the American safety net since the Great Society.
More than two weeks into the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, the website created by President Barack Obama’s health care reform law still isn’t working right.
But the website was Obamacare. It was the only way the administration planned to sign up the millions of uninsured this law was going to help and they failed in their responsibility to build that tool. That is a failure of the law and the faith that animated it, not just the website.
It’s the procurement process and the private contractors, others say:
At the heart of the federal IT crisis is a complex system of regulations that rewards contractors that are better at bidding on giant federal contracts than at building software. While the political figures who commission or oversee those contractors are ultimately culpable, the work itself is done by the private sector. That’s not only true of civilian agencies, as the world was reminded when a private contractor for the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, leaked key documents from the government and gave then to the press.
In fact, over the past several decades, more and more core information technology functions have been delivered by private contractors, not in-house staff. While a few government executives look for different approaches, private contracting is now the norm when it comes to how government IT is proposed bought, built, and maintained.
Given how well the Obama campaign used technology to support getting the Democratic nominee for president elected, I’ve seen many people wondering how his administration has so badly botched the technology behind his signature legislative achievement. To understand why this shouldn’t be surprising, you have to know how different the ways campaigns and government agencies can buy and build tech are, as I said on Washington Post TV this past week, apples and oranges.
The short answer is that even presidential campaigns have a great deal of freedom to hire (and fire) who they want and take risks with adopting new technologies, from social media to data mining to mobile applications.
Complex regulations, the flexibility of peanut brittle, and a system that rewards rule-followers and connections, not ability to do good work? Now that the problem has been identified, we learn that it couldn’t be fixed because of fear of transparency and political liability, and that no one will be held accountable for it. That’s not an isolated problem of government function. That’s a distillation of government function, a metaphor for the entire thing, and again, it was faith in this entity that animated Obamacare.
Obamacare’s failure is a reason for skepticism about the federal government’s ability to do stuff well, no matter how hard liberals try to elide it. Up until it utterly failed to launch, you could have blamed that assessment on my ideology and many Obamacare supporters did, but now it’s the truth. It’s a real-life broken promise, and it should make Americans very hesitant to trust government to do “big things” because it just failed to do a very big thing. Now, the project should be judged by the results, not their intentions.
If it doesn’t make Americans skeptical, they’re in danger of trusting promises like Obama’s again. That trust was always misplaced, and I hope we don’t have to learn the painful lesson again.