Perhaps it was just the retirement of Henry Waxman that made this clear, but the pattern has been evident for the last few years. Sam Baker connects the dots for National Journal, and points out the dangers for Democrats who have to defend this system for the short-, medium-, and long-term future:

Congressional Democrats began the Obama administration with a deep bench on health care issues—one whose passion and collective experience far outstripped their Republican adversaries. That dynamic has now almost entirely reversed.

Since their razor-thin Affordable Care Act victory, nearly all of the Democratic lawmakers most experienced and most passionate on health care have either left Congress or announced their plan to leave this year.

And that’s a problem for Democrats, given that their passage of Obamacare has handed them responsibility for health care for the next decade. Republicans, meanwhile, will take every opportunity to attack the law—and blame any and all of the health care system’s problems on it. …

Democratic leaders and committed liberals can and will still defend Obamacare politically, along with the basic idea of universal coverage. But there aren’t many Democrats left who—like Waxman and some of his departing Congressional colleagues—are truly invested in the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act as well as other nitty-gritty health care issues.

It’s not just the House, either, and it’s not just this cycle. Senators Max Baucus and Tom Harkin both have decided to leave on their own, as did Chris Dodd, who took over the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee after Ted Kennedy died in 2009. Harkin chairs it now, while Baucus chaired the Finance Committee that manipulated the reconciliation process in order to get ObamaCare passed. Reps. Waxman and fellow Californian George Miller are taking a powder after this term, both key allies of Nancy Pelosi on ObamaCare, while Allyson Schwartz is leaving for a shot at the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race.

It’s a dramatic brain drain on Democratic expertise on health-care politicking. At the same time, Republicans are adding more doctors to their ranks. More to the point, as ObamaCare continues to fail and people experience more pain in the market disruptions, the GOP is gaining more credibility on health issues. Even in a relatively friendly WaPo/ABC poll this month, their usually commanding lead on this issue area is down to single digits, and well below a majority.

Today’s news about the difference between sign-ups and enrollments will make Democratic credibility erode even further if they continue to rely on Obama administration PR releases:

Around one in five people who picked health insurance policies on the state and federal exchanges last year haven’t paid their first month’s premiums, according to insurers polled by CNNMoney. These folks will likely see their policy selection canceled and they’ll be left uninsured.

Some 2.1 million people signed up for a plan in time for their coverage to start January 1, according to the Obama administration. But with the payment deadlines stretching until January 31 at the latest, anywhere between 12% and 30% of those folks still haven’t paid up, insurers say.

Most consumers were given until the middle or the end of January to pay their first premium, a necessary step to actually activating enrollment. Exchange officials and insurers repeatedly stressed the importance of sending in that first payment, with some following up with the slackers by phone or letter.

The true enrollment figure likely won’t be known for a few weeks.

All of those stories about enrollments assumed that sign-ups were equivalent. That assumption, like so many others about ObamaCare, is about to get a dash of very cold water.