The official response to this morning’s bombshell.
The Obama administration continues to stand behind its prediction that it will fix the Obamacare website “for the vast majority of users” by the end of the month, administration spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri confirms over e-mail. Numerous reporters and analysts have steadily lost confidence that the administration can hit this target date. Last week, a spokesperson for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services told reporters, “As we have fixed certain pieces of functionality, like the account creation process, we’re seeing volume go further down the application. We’re identifying new issues that we need to be in a position to troubleshoot.”
The revelation of new, previously undiscovered problems sounded like an implicit concession that the original end-of-month target date was no longer attainable — or at least, less certain than before. Palmieri told me the administration had not backed away, writing, “What Jeff Zients said on his press call was that we have encountered more problems to be solved and even so they believe the website will be working well for a majority of users by Nov. 30th.” (I asked if promising the site would work for a “majority” of users represented a backing away from the promise it would work for “the vast majority,” and Palmieri replied that her omission of “vast” was merely an oversight.)
Three possibilities here. One: It’s a perfunctory denial of the WaPo story, issued full in the knowledge that the paper’s source is right and that they haven’t a prayer of ironing out all the wrinkles in the next 17 days. No sense confirming the truth now, though; better to play for time while insurers huddle with the White House to cobble together a Plan B. On December 1, the political world is going to feel like the scene in “Airplane!” when Julie Haggerty asks the passengers if anyone knows how to fly a plane. No need to hurry it along.
Two: Zients, HHS, and CMS are straight-up lying to the White House about the site possibly being ready in time. Wouldn’t be the first time, if you believe Obama’s apparatchiks in the West Wing. They told Politico recently that Obama met with Sebelius and Marilyn Tavenner repeatedly before the launch and had no inkling from them that the site’s problems were as profound as they are. Sebelius herself, remember, told CNN a few weeks ago that Obama didn’t know the extent of the screw-up until after the site went live. If he swallowed their BS once, why not see if he’ll swallow it twice while they work frantically to try to patch things together? Problem is, no one seriously believes that Obama didn’t know how terrible the site was before it launched. Just ask insurers:
“Everybody seemed to just have an understanding that this thing would not work at launch,” said an insurance industry insider. “Surely that was conveyed to the White House. The idea that anyone could have been surprised or not understand this was way off track would be hard to fathom.”
Insurance industry representatives spoke frequently with administration officials and relayed their concerns with the website, particularly about the transmission of enrollment data to insurers.
“They were told, ‘It’s not a big deal, they’re fixing it,’” one industry source said…
“There was such an environment of don’t do anything that can get bad press,” the insurance industry source said. “That is why nothing was being shared out of CMS. We would share stuff with them. The general viewpoint was — don’t do anything to get any bad press whatsoever. They didn’t create an environment where that would be OK.”
The White House and CMS knew but no one else did because that would embarrass O and embolden the GOP. The same reasoning explains why they’re now pretending they’re still on track for December 1.
Is it possible that the admin is leaking dire tidings about exchange so they can deliver an upside surprise?
— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) November 13, 2013
Could the White House be ready to spring a December surprise? The White House’s chief tech officer did tell Issa’s committee today that they’re “making progress at a growing rate.” And the White House is reaching out to some people who tried to apply before and encouraging them to try again, which is not something you would think they’d do if they were worried about the site being overwhelmed by a new surge in users. What if West Wing sources are feeding doom and gloom to the media, if only not to overpromise on hitting their December 1 target, and then suddenly — ta da — Healthcare.gov kinda sorta works on Thanksgiving?
The problem with that theory, I think, is that stories like WaPo’s about missing the deadline risk scaring congressional Democrats into voting with Republicans this month on things like Upton’s “Keep Your Plan Act.” If Obama’s team had reason to believe they were on track, they’d tell their partners in the Democratic leadership and in the insurance industry to keep people from jumping ship. As it is, I haven’t seen a single optimistic word about the site being patched in time from anyone outside the White House itself. On the contrary, Bob Laszewski’s sources among insurers told him a few days ago that the website’s problems seem so intractable that a Plan B is urgently needed. Worst of all, every trickle of news about the site not being ready soon suggests to the public that they don’t need to pay attention to enrollment just yet, when in fact the White House will be desperate for enrollments even if the site does miraculously begin to function on December 1. Too much to lose and too little to gain by feeding the idea that the site’s a lost cause if it really isn’t.
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