What will fix a $400 million Internet venture that doesn’t allow most people to sign up and doesn’t produce hardly any sales on its core business of service plans? A presidential speech, that’s what! Or, er, not:
You know what will fix all of this? A speech by President Obama, that's what.
— David Freddoso (@freddoso) October 21, 2013
Dick Durbin thinks that the new system is on track for success, but successes don’t usually require red-team interventions or “tech surges” to stop the onslaught of bad press. Barack Obama will make a statement from the Rose Garden at 11:25 this morning, which traditionally means 11:40 or so. The New York Daily News tells readers that the President has some ‘splaining to do:
President Barack Obama is expected to acknowledge that widespread problems with his health care law’s rollout are unacceptable, as the administration scrambles to fix the glitches.
Obama was scheduled to speak Monday from the Rose Garden, his first health care-focused event since the cascade of computer problems became apparent.
The troublesome rollout of the health care exchanges has been a glaring embarrassment for Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
White House officials say the president will discuss steps the administration is taking to address the glitches, including ramping up staffing at call centers where people can apply for insurance by phone.
The Department of Health and Human Services says it is also bringing in technology experts from inside and outside of government to help diagnose the issues.
The White House is also bringing in some human props to deflect from the incompetence of the administration:
Obama will be flanked at the Rose Garden event by people the White House says have already enrolled during the first three weeks of sign-ups.
Really? How many will that be? Because if there are less than 476,000 — the “enrollment number” that the White House tried floating over the weekend — it’s going to remind everyone that there is a very large difference between creating a user account and an actual, confirmed purchase of coverage.
A source in the industry tells John Fund that it might be months before HHS can fix the problem:
If HealthCare.gov isn’t fixed quickly, it will run up against something called a reality check. On January 1, all Americans will be required by law to have health insurance. The deadline to apply for health coverage — and avoid paying a penalty of up to 1 percent of income — is February 15. This is not the same deadline as that marking the end of the open-enrollment period, which is March 31. So you could enroll after February 15, but you would pay the penalty. As Politico dryly noted last week: “This quirk, unearthed by industry observers, appears to have gone previously unnoticed by the administration. ‘The IRS didn’t know that,’ said Jackson Hewitt Vice President Brian Haile, who recently brought the issue to the administration’s attention.”
If the meltdowns at HealthCare.gov aren’t fixed soon, the delay in implementing that mandate — a delay that President Obama refused to even contemplate during the government shutdown — may become a necessity for him. Bruce Webster, an expert on information technology and consultant to dozens of companies, told me:
I honestly believe that at some point soon, the government is going to have to shut down the Apply Now section of HealthCare.gov for a period of weeks and possibly even longer. I think there’s at least a 50-50 chance that it may not reopen until January [or later], and that President Obama will “waive” the individual mandate for six months or even a full year.
If that’s true, there’s one thing you can count on. The Obama administration will keep on not answering questions about Obamacare, claim that everything is “on track,” and deny that any such move is possible — up until the very day they announce something different.
Or the day they run out of human props for their happy talk. Let’s see a preview of what we’ll hear today:
That has to be better than the messaging yesterday, which was that HHS can’t guarantee that the system will be fixed in time for people to meet the first real deadline of the individual mandate:
“If people can’t sign up, they can’t get affordable care,” asked Bloomberg’s Al Hunt. “And can you guarantee the public that by December 15, say, which is a little over 2 weeks before they can really join, that these problems will be largely rectified?”
“I think that the administration is working deeply on the problems that exist and I think it’s also important to recognize that there are other places and ways, in terms of whether those are the phone numbers, the navigators, and other tools and choices that people have to do that,” said Burwell.
Hunt asked Burwell again — and again she wouldn’t guarantee that the Obamacare website will be working in 2 months.
Break out the human props!