On November 14, 2005, less than 2 years after President Bush signed the program into law, enrollment began for Medicare Part D which allowed seniors for the first time to purchase subsidized prescription drug coverage through Medicare. Seniors were offered choices from among a variety of plans and providers, and premium subsidies based on their income levels. As a result the program was complicated, requiring the launch of a new government website and call center to facilitate enrollment, and a host of back-end systems to calculate eligibility and transmit enrollment information to the insurance carriers.
As you may recall, things did not go as smoothly as planned. One might say the roll-out was plagued by a series of “glitches”. Seniors were confused about their options and the new website contained inaccuracies and was initially overwhelmed by a flood of inquiries.
By the time coverage began to take effect in early 2006, the media was unsparing. It was an unqualified “debacle”, according to Paul Krugman in the NY Times. A “Medicare Hurricane”, according to the Washington Post. Time declared it the “GOP’s Medicare Drug Problem”, Slate a “drug addled fiasco“.
Many Democrats in Congress were just as ruthless in their criticism, even though they had long supported the idea of covering prescription drugs via Medicare. “This has been botched and bungled every step of the way”, said Sen. Kent Conrad (ND). “No greater government failure since Katrina”, he added.
Senator Hillary Clinton called for the program to be scrapped and re-started, calling the rollout a “deep, heartbreaking disappointment” while helpfully reminding everyone that Medicare was initially implemented in 11 months, when “we didn’t have computers”. (video below)
Nancy Pelosi declared it a “complete embarrassment to the Bush Administration” and like Sen. Clinton said that Democrats should “replace it”. (video below)
So how did this embarrassing debacle turn out? By the end of March, only 4.5 months after enrollment began, 27 million seniors had signed up for coverage.
Is this is a cautionary tale of how a competent administration, spurred by criticism, can turn an unprecedented failure into something most people would call a “resounding success” within a very short period of time? Perhaps, and the current Administration would certainly like to believe so. But I can’t help but notice that as with ObamaCare the media’s initial stance was curiously in line with that put forth by leading Democrats, all the way up to the point of time in which those inconvenient facts got in the way.