Moving the Goalposts on Obamacare

With Novermber 30th approaching, the Obama administration and their allies in the media have started moving the goalposts on what constitutes success for the law. The answer, not surprisingly, is something less than previously expected.

During the Monday conference call with reporters, CMS spokesman indicated that users to the site would continue to experience “intermittent” errors. Indeed, the site was unexpectedly down for an hour Monday.

“The system will not work perfectly on Dec. 1, but it will work much better than it did in October,” CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille said. The Hill describes the call as an effort to “downplay expectations.” All that’s missing is CMS announcing that November 30th wasn’t their red line it was the world’s red line.

To be fair, CMS has been backing away from their own deadline for weeks now, which should give a sense of how well the repairs are going. No doubt they hoped that by Dec. 1 the site would be working flawlessly and they could announce they had exceeded expectations. But that hasn’t happened so now they are merely willing to say it will be better than October.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein–who visited the President at the White House last week–has a new Wonkblog post titled “Obamacare won’t get 7 million enrollees in 2014 — and that’s okay.” Klein does more than drag the goalpost here, he attempts to tear it down, set it on fire and dance on the ashes.

The 7 million number isn’t a goal so much as it’s an estimate. It comes from the Congressional Budget Office’s May 2013 projection
of how many people would sign up for insurance under Obamacare. But
that projection didn’t foresee two months of a non-functional federal
health exchange. Or, to put it simply, that estimate is already wrong.
It should be thrown out entirely.

Klein goes on to say that the important figure is the overall number who enroll but the percentage of young people in the pool. He’s been consistent on that point for a while but that shouldn’t distract from the admission being made today, i.e. the CBO estimate is impossible to reach because of gross incompetence.

It’s true as Klein claims that “More wasn’t necessarily better” since there are certain circumstance in which more could be worse. That does not mean the total is unimportant or that having a low total is necessarily okay.

The entire premise for this reform was the need to cover the uninsured. The law has to actually do that or it is a failure no matter what the percentages in the risk pool are. Granted, if the final tally is 6.5 million that won’t make much of a difference. At that point, the ratio of young to old will probably matter more.

But as Bob Laszewski pointed out Monday, states like California are struggling to enroll as many people as were dropped from their insurance under Obamacare’s grandfathering regulations. In other words, it’s possible that by the end of the year the net coverage in California and elsewhere could be negative (as it is now).

Nationwide about 5 million people have been dropped. So when Klein writes “If they got 4 million to sign up, success would mean making sure 1.5 million were young and healthy” he’s missing the forest for the trees. If only 4 million sign up the law has arguably done more harm than good. Good luck convincing people that’s “okay.”

There’s a reason why the President’s supporters at OFA are trying to turn Thanksgiving into a timeshare seminar for Obamacare. The total number of enrollees does matter and right now it’s looking like it could be much lower than predicted. That’s why the screeching sound of goalposts being moved is in the air today.