President Obama lost Jon Stewart over Obamacare problems

Given the partisan battles over Obamacare – the way it passed Congress on strict party-line votes, the proxy fights by core supporters and core opponents, and the “defund” movement – it’s easy to view the law through those partisan prisms. The success of its implementation, though, won’t come from some party spokesperson’s talking points or settled on Sunday morning talk shows.

It has been interesting to watch over the past week as even left-leaning voices are acknowledging that Obamacare’s implementation problems go beyond mere technical glitches. As Ron Fournier points out in the National Journal, utilizing technology to connect consumers with insurance options was supposed to be the easy part of implementing Obamacare. Getting enough people to purchase policies in the exchanges – and getting the right mix of people, including enough young people, to avoid the “death spiral” – was supposed to be the hard part compared to building a functioning website:

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.”

If consumers, especially the young, are going to sign up, they need to see prices that don’t cause sticker shock. To address that political reality, the administration designed the site in a way that led to further problems. Here’s another piece from the National Journal, this time from Major Garrett:

One of the reasons the website is so horribly garbled is that the administration decided it didn’t want consumers to see the price of insurance premiums without also being able to see if they were eligible for offsetting subsidies. That was not a design flaw as much as it was a tacit admission that the price point of insurance coverage could stun consumers. Here is a national map, based on available data of pre- and post-Obamacare premiums.

While some, including the President, have tried to convince us these implementation issues have just been bumps on the road to a solid, well-working program, the problems are raising doubts about the fundamentals of Obamacare. As Garrett put it, “All of this goes to the basic architecture of the law. If that is flawed, the woes for Obama will be much deeper than they are now.”

Many were pointing out the mounting problems earlier but got lost in the sea of shutdown coverage. Now we learn that, because of the national exchange’s myriad issues, the administration is going to “soften the deadline” for the individual mandate. When you add it all up, it’s clear this goes beyond mere technology problems. And when the President has lost Jon Stewart…

Fair warning, video includes salty humor.
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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.