Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cruising the Web

I guess the administration is so used to reading their own press that they figure that any problem can be solved with another speech with Obama surrounded by a group of human props to stand by him. It has never worked with making Obamacare any more popular, but trying to put lipstick on the pig of HealthCare.gov's with Obama out there chanting an 800 number while ignoring all the bigger problems of the program was really the nadir of Obama's attempts at salesmanship. Impersonating Billy Mays is not going to convince people that paying more for a health insurance policy with a much bigger deductible.

Byron York has some fun looking at the backgrounds of the people standing behind him to represent the success of the program as provided by the White House itself. They had time to put together human proof of the success of his program, but of the 13 people they brought out to stand behind him, only three of them have actually successfully enrolled in a health care insurance plan through the Obamacare exchanges. As Allahpundit points out, the administration had three weeks to find people to be human evidence of the success of the exchanges and the website and they could only find three people who have purchased plans. Instead they were reduced to putting out there people who are "planning" to enroll or are still "researching" or "exploring" their options.
In the days since the problems with the Obamacare website became too large to ignore, defenders of the administration cited the many people they said have already benefited from the new exchanges, as well as from the law as a whole. Presumably, the White House had many success stories to choose from in deciding who would stand behind the president at Monday's event. But some of the successes they chose don't seem to be successes at all.
Many of these human examples haven't used the website at all. They are just planning to or they are people who have already benefited from the law by staying on their parents' plans. They're not proof of the success of the rollout that began on October 1. As James Taranto points out, they're not the ones the administration needs to sign up to avoid the death spiral of the whole plan.
Obama boasted: "Every day people who were stuck with sky-high premiums because of pre-existing conditions are getting affordable insurance for the first time, or finding . . . that they're saving a lot of money. Every day women are finally buying coverage that doesn't charge them higher premiums than men for the same care."

If Obama is accurately describing the typical ObamaCare enrollee, then the program's economic death spiral is under way. ObamaCare can work only if people without pre-existing conditions prove willing to pay jacked-up premiums and, since he mentioned it, if men are willing to pick up the tab for those lowered (or less steeply raised) premiums for women.
Don't you think that, if the administration had actual evidence of large numbers of people buying policies through the exchanges, they would be publicizing that information?

And the Ginsu knife that supposedly comes with affordable health care that Obama was advertising yesterday with the 800 number didn't eve work. Many news organizations reported calling it and being referred tot he website that isn't working and which then tells people to call the 800 number. Couldn't they get that right before they put the President out there as a pitchman? We're a long way from Obama's claims that the website was going to be as easy to use as Amazon. They're reduced to an 800 number and paper applications. But those methods require a computer system that works in which the new applicants can be entered.

As Peter Suderman writes,
Obama acknowledged some problems with the site. But he didn’t say why they happened, when they would be resolved, or what the administration’s specific plan was to get things working.

That’s rather telling. If President Obama was confident that the online exchange system was on track to be fixed in short order, that would have been the highlight of his message. It wasn’t. Indeed, much of his speech was devoted to arguing that Obamacare is more than just a website, and to explaining how people who want coverage can still enroll in coverage outside the exchanges. Phone help and paper applications, he said, provided an alternative method of enrollment.

But full processing of paper applications can’t be done easily without a functioning online system. At best, it’s a process that takes weeks; a document is filled out for you, then mailed to your home, then mailed back again, after which you can expect to wait another week or so to find out if you qualify for subsidies.

Just a few weeks ago, Obama was telling people that the exchanges would be as simple to use as Amazon, or an online travel reservation site like Kayak.com. Now he’s telling people they must rely on a phone and paper process that is, at best, extremely slow.

Obama's speech, in other words, was designed to tell people how Obamacare could work without the online exchanges. Which strongly suggests that he and the rest of the administration believe that, at least for the time being, that's the only way it's going to.

President Kennedy was able to improve his own poll numbers and reputation for leadership by going out and taking the blame for the failure of the Bay of Pigs. People like it when a leader steps up and takes real responsibility. But Obama just came out to lie to us that the "product is working. It's really good." As I tell my students all the time when I'm grading their writing, simply asserting that something is so doesn't make it so. Telling us that millions of people have visited the website and that thousands have signed up is not proof. And three anecdotes are not proof. And impersonating Crazy Eddie in the Rose Garden isn't going to convince people how great everything is working.

Yesterday's latest attempt at salesmanship was so awful that Obama seems to be proving what conservatives often say that liberals are soft when it comes to actually arguing their positions because they're so used to a compliant press.

The Onion captures the moment with its headline: "New, Improved Obamacare Program Released On 35 Floppy Disks."
“I have heard the complaints about the existing website, and I can assure you that with this revised system, finding the right health care option for you and your family is as easy as loading 35 floppy disks sequentially into your disk drive and following the onscreen prompts,” President Obama told reporters this morning, explaining that the nearly three dozen 3.5-inch diskettes contain all the data needed for individuals to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace, while noting that the updated Obamacare software is mouse-compatible and requires a 386 Pentium processor with at least 8 MB of system RAM to function properly. “Just fire up MS-DOS, enter ‘A:\>dir *.exe’ into the command line, and then follow the instructions to install the Obamacare batch files—it should only take four or five hours at the most. You can press F1 for help if you run into any problems. And be sure your monitor’s screen resolution is at 320 x 200 or it might not display properly.” Obama added that the federal government hopes to have a six–CD-ROM version of the program available by 2016.

As Mary Katharine Ham points out, President Obama thinks that it's enough for him to come out to say that he's ticked off and poof! problems will be fixed.
The “unacceptable” speech is a staple of the Obama presidency. Through gritted teeth, the president acknowledges something he’d rather not, usually something his administration has screwed up royally—Benghazi, the IRS scandal, or the push for intervention in Syria. He detaches himself from the situation and all responsibility for what he’s acknowledging while offering a stern lecture for those who caused the problem— usually someone he hired and under his direct instruction— and promising to get to the bottom of it. He might show a flash of barely contained Spock-Obama anger to send a thrill up the legs of newscasters.

In the South Parkian parlance of the underpants gnomes, that’s Step 1. Step 2: ? Step 3: Problem solved.
Maybe if he'd spent more time in the real world, he'd know that things don't work that way.
The only thing Obama has ever run well is a tech-centric campaign that knows how to build a hell of a website. How could he let this happen, some wonder? Two thoughts on that. One, Obama assumed that building a tech system to support Obamacare would look like building his campaign did without recognizing that working within government, complying with its regulations, and deploying with the flexibility of peanut brittle was fundamentally different from launching tech products for a small, private organization built to be flexible from hour to hour on the campaign trail. Ironically, Obama’s very successful tech-centric campaign also further hampered the efforts to build HealthCare.gov and state exchanges by putting off setting regulations, rules, and specs until post-election, when they couldn’t be used as ammunition against him.

Two, I think Obama thinks when he says things, they just happen. There’s no small part of his entire candidacy and presidency founded on a sort of magical thinking. His presence would fix Washington even as he did nothing to fix it and exacerbated many of its worst features. His words would heal our divides and probably the ocean. It’s not surprising that his signature law would be animated by a lot of the same. He said “Travelocity for health care,” didn’t he?

He said Benghazi’s perpetrators would be brought to justice, didn’t he? He said the IRS acted inappropriately, didn’t he? Problem solved.

The pattern should make Obamacare supporters very nervous about whether this thing can be fixed quickly. Since when has something the president called “unacceptable” ever been brought to a satisfactory conclusion? Each of these things has been put into the “Keystone” holding pattern. If past is prelude, the president will perpetually be “gathering facts,” “acting deliberately,” and giving stern speeches about continued Obamacare website problems. And, by the way, firing no one.

It's not good when an AP reporter goes on TV to accuse the Obama administration of being "selectively transparent" about the information they're giving the public about the problems with the Obamacare website.
“Part of what’s been so frustrating about this as a reporter is that we know that they have these numbers,” Pace said Monday. “It’s not as though they have to wait for some tech person off in some far-off place to send them the data — they’re getting these numbers in.”
Is "selectively transparent" a euphemism for outright lying? Sounds like it. Even Ezra Klein is going on MSNBC to complain about the rollout.
Ironically, according to Klein, the websites’ incapacity to handle Internet traffic is actually preventing users from encountering what may be the sites’ biggest problem.

“These aren’t glitches,” Klein said on Morning Joe on Monday. “The website, to a first approximation, simply isn’t working.”

He explained that the more fixable problem facing the website was dealing with traffic. The bigger problem, according to Klein, was whether the right information was being sent to insurers after users enroll, including messages that users hadn’t yet enrolled even if they had.

This is why Ron Fournier writes that Obama should be "freaked out" by what is becoming clear about his signature program.
1. It's worse than his team has let on. The White House has tried to position the failed first days of Obamacare as mere hiccups caused by the site's popularity. Obama called them "kinks." An administration spokesman told the Washington Post on Sunday that the "main driver of the problem is volume." This is intentionally misleading.

The White House has heard complaints from insurance companies, consumers, and health policy experts about issues embedded deeply in the online system. For example: inaccurate information provided to people about federal tax credits; low-income people erroneously told they don't qualify for Medicaid; and insurance companies getting confusing information about who has signed up.

The administration refuses to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange, the key metric for determining how well the online service is working in states that didn't set up their own exchanges. There are two possible explanations for the Obama administration's unconscionable lack of transparency. Their process is so screwed up that they don't have the data, which would be embarrassing. Or they have the data – and it's embarrassing.

2. This is the easy part. Finding and motivating people to take action online is the founding strength of Team Obama. This is what they do best. Managing a complex law is a different matter, and it's fair to question whether the president and his team are up to it.

How do you convince healthy young Americans to pay for insurance they may not need in order to fund the program? Do companies shed workers and working hours to avoid coming under the law? Are people with cheap catastrophic plans forced to pay more in the exchanges? Tricky questions likes these will soon make the hard art of website design look like fingerpainting. "The online federal health care exchange, the heart of the Obamacare project, is such a rolling catastrophe that it may end up creating a major policy fiasco immediately rather than eventually," wrote Ross Douthat in a New York Times column titled, "Obamacare, Failing Ahead of Schedule."
And the blame will fall squarely on President Obama and his administration.

Politico reports on how Democrats running for reelection are starting to realize that their straight party-line support for Obamacare might be coming back to bite them big time. Their only hope - start to publicly attack the administration and hope that that will give them some sort of immunity from their own votes. The Republicans better not let them get away with such attempts to elide responsibility.

The real shock is not going to be the problems with the website. Probably those will eventually be resolved. Then people will get the joy of finding out that their policy has been cancelled or how much more they are going to have to pay under the new healthcare regime.
Some receiving cancellations say it looks like their costs will go up, despite studies projecting that about half of all enrollees will get income-based subsidies.

Kris Malean, 56, lives outside Seattle, and has a health policy that costs $390 a month with a $2,500 deductible and a $10,000 in potential out-of-pocket costs for such things as doctor visits, drug costs or hospital care.

As a replacement, Regence BlueShield is offering her a plan for $79 more a month with a deductible twice as large as what she pays now, but which limits her potential out-of-pocket costs to $6,250 a year, including the deductible.

“My impression was …there would be a lot more choice, driving some of the rates down,” said Malean, who does not believe she is eligible for a subsidy.

Regence spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said the new plans offer consumers broader benefits, which “in many cases translate into higher costs.”

“The arithmetic is inescapable,” said Patrick Johnston, chief executive officer of the California Association of Health Plans. Costs must be spread, so while some consumers will see their premiums drop, others will pay more -- “no matter what people in Washington say.”
Yup. That arithmetic is indeed inescapable. It's a shame that the Democrats couldn't do that basic math before they imposed this monstrosity on the entire country.

Along those lines, Jim Geraghty links to a letter in the Watertown Daily Times.
I am a business owner in Clayton.

We have 17 full-time employees and have spent the last few months following the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. I am now prepared to go on record to report that we have been misled by the president and the Democrats in Congress.
We were promised that under the ACA, we would be able to keep our present insurance plan if we liked it, and we could keep our own doctor, according to President Obama. This is absolutely not true. My current insurance plan is very affordable and has no deductible.

This plan has been found to be noncompliant under the new federally mandated insurance law. So my insurance is going to cost nearly 50 percent more and will now have a $1,200 deductible.
This is not the same plan. It is the same provider but totally different in terms of cost and benefits. Let me be clear, there is no option to keep my current plan.

The coverage is being expanded to include prescriptions, durable medical devices, pediatric dental care and mental health insurance. I don’t want all this extra coverage, and neither do my employees.

Under the new law, everyone must carry this insurance whether they want to or not. Also, it is becoming clear that the ACA’s exchanges will narrow your choice of doctors.
Multiply this story by the thousands and thousands of companies that are facing the same reality. This leads Jim Geraghty to note that "the death spiral [of Obamacare] is looking increasingly inevitable." He runs the math (there is that tricky subject again) to find that it just doesn't make sense for people who don't have insurance today to sign up for policies that are going to be more expensive and have much larger deductibles than paying the fine.
You can see where this is going. The insurance always costs more than the penalty, and the insurance isn’t that great once you account for co-pays and deductibles.

If the reason an uninsured person hasn’t bought insurance is that it’s too expensive, then most of the time they’re going to choose the cheaper option – paying the fine.

If the reason an uninsured person hasn’t bought insurance is that they’re a young invincible who thinks they don’t need insurance… they’re going to choose the cheaper option – paying the fine.

In short, you’re going to see a large swath of the uninsured choose to pay the fine – particularly the youngest and healthiest.

Thus, the death spiral continues.

Do they really think this turd sandwich is going to taste any better once people start tasting those sorts of ingredients?

Robert Samuelson argues that we're deceiving ourselves by using the word "entitlements" to talk about the mandatory spending that is breaking our budget.
The second problem is this: Political leaders’ casual references to entitlements encourage people to think benefit programs are legally untouchable, at least in the sense of cuts. People are “entitled.” The trouble is that it’s not true; the popular view of entitlement has little standing in law. In a 1960 decision, Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress can alter Social Security benefits as it pleases. The court made it clear in later decisions that “the payment of Social Security taxes conveys no contractual rights to Social Security benefits,” says a Congressional Research Service report. Legally, other entitlement programs are similarly vulnerable.

They should be. The budget quandry is to match Americans’ appetite for government benefits with a willingness to be taxed. The whole range of government programs and taxes ought to be on the table. By effectively excluding nearly two-thirds of spending — entitlement programs — Congress and the White House increase pressures to cut non-entitlement programs and to raise taxes. We’re squeezing defense and domestic programs (parks, the FBI, the National Institutes of Health, transportation and others) to spare entitlements. The so-called “sequester” mandates across-the-board cuts for these “discretionary” programs.

That’s why we’d be better off ditching the notion of entitlement. It has outlived its usefulness. Programs shouldn’t be shielded from constructive criticism and change just because they’re hiding behind an obsolete label. Given most programs’ popularity and big constituencies, draconian cuts are unlikely and undesirable. But huge savings over decades can result from modest shifts in eligibility requirements and benefit levels. These could be phased in to make them more palatable and less disruptive to the economy.

Our entitlement hang-up has momentous consequences. Too much change is being forced onto too little government. Deadlocks persist because, without Democratic entitlement concessions, Republican tax concessions are implausible. Ideally, the president would seek to change public opinion by confronting its contradictions. But he has done little, leaving the White House and Congress in a state of perpetual warfare.
I always enjoy historical analogies. Mark Thiessen invokes one of my favorite subjects - the military history of the Revolutionary War to argue that the Republicans should adopt a Fabian strategy as George Washington did. He compares Ted Cruz's leadership to that of Horatio Gates at the Battle of Camden. Ouch. That stings.

Jeff Jacoby looks back at JFK's presidency and ponders whether he would be welcome in today's Democratic Party.
The 35th president was an ardent tax-cutter who championed across-the-board, top-to-bottom reductions in personal and corporate tax rates, slashed tariffs to promote free trade, and even spoke out against the “confiscatory” property taxes being levied in too many cities.

He was anything but a big-spending, welfare-state liberal. “I do not believe that Washington should do for the people what they can do for themselves through local and private effort,” Kennedy bluntly avowed during the 1960 campaign. One of his first acts as president was to institute a pay cut for top White House staffers, and that was only the start of his budgetary austerity. “To the surprise of many of his appointees,” longtime aide Ted Sorensen would later write, he “personally scrutinized every agency request with a cold eye and encouraged his budget director to say ‘no.’ ”

On the other hand, he was a Cold War anticommunist who aggressively increased military spending. He faulted his Republican predecessor for tailoring the nation’s military strategy to fit the budget, rather than the other way around. “We must refuse to accept a cheap, second-best defense,” JFK said during his run for the White House. He made good on that pledge, pushing defense spending to 50 percent of federal expenditures and 9 percent of GDP, both far higher than today’s levels. Speaking in Texas just hours before his death, he proudly took credit for building the US military into “a defense system second to none.”

....When he decided to resume nuclear testing in 1962, Bertrand Russell attacked him as “much more wicked than Hitler,” and Linus Pauling, who would receive that year’s Nobel Peace Prize, predicted that he would “go down in history as . . . one of the greatest enemies of the human race.” Left-wing intellectuals raged against Kennedy’s failed attempt to topple Fidel Castro (the renowned sociologist C. Wright Mills said the administration had “returned us to barbarism”). Liberals within the administration expressed dismay for Kennedy’s unwavering support for tax cuts. Schlesinger called one of Kennedy’s exhortations “the worst speech the president had ever given.”

Nearly 30 years ago, an essay in Mother Jones magazine asked: “Would JFK Be a Hero Now?” If the answer wasn’t obvious then, it certainly is now. In today’s political environment, a candidate like JFK — a conservative champion of economic growth, tax cuts, limited government, peace through strength — plainly would be a hero. Whether he would be a Democrat is a different matter altogether.