Website problems addressed, health care reform still needed

December 6, 2013 

Yes, President Obama should have taken a more hands-on interest in the launch of HealthCare.gov. Not in the sense of immersing himself in the tiniest details, but certainly in terms of making sure those in charge, and those working for those in charge, understood that the margin for error was no margin at all.

Everyone knows what happened: The website that is essential to signing people up under the Affordable Care Act became a confused, dysfunctional operation that ultimately had to be put on the lift for a major tune-up.

Now, the president is touting the changes, the improvements, as a good sign that the ACA is going to work. And he has reason to: More than 1 million people visited the website Monday; it now can handle 50,000 simultaneous users and up to 800,000 visitors a day. Those running the site anticipate that there will be an uptick of visitors who want to find health insurance that begins coverage by the first of the year.

Advance work

In hindsight, the administration simply didn’t do enough in advance of the launch to ensure that, once the champagne was cracked over the ship, the vessel would float. This was Obama’s main accomplishment so far, and it may wind up being the singular most important achievement of his presidency. There should not have been the problems with handling the website visitors that there were.

As a result of those problems, Americans in need of coverage, many of whom had been thrown into the website by employers who did away with their insurance, became skeptical and frustrated. And polls show younger people, some of whom had the cheapest insurance possible because they figured to remain healthy for years, don’t have a lot of faith in “Obamacare.”

But one of the ideas behind the ACA, of course, is that if all people are covered by insurance, even young and healthy people, then costs for everyone will level off, and that will be a factor even in lowering health care costs.

The ACA has had many critics, most of them distrusting the president and the Democrats in Congress. For all their hue and cry, they’ve offered few practical alternatives to improve Americans’ health care.

Their fervor intensified after the president won a second term despite the vitriol of his critics. And those critics refused to believe that perhaps one factor in his re-election was that the American people liked the idea of health care reform even if they had problems with certain aspects of it.

Fodder for critics

Unfortunately, the problems with the website encouraged Obama’s critics in Congress, who have used those technical problems to push for the complete destruction of the ACA. But as former President Bill Clinton has noted, Medicare Part D, the drug program started by former President George W. Bush, had technical difficulties as well.

Even as Republicans have brutally attacked Obama and his health care reform, they’ve not explained why they’re opposed to health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions or for children with illnesses that made insuring them virtually impossible. They’ve not said why they don’t want health care in America to be a right and not a privilege or why they resist expansion of Medicaid.

Instead, they offer only personal attacks on President Obama, with the most vicious coming from tea party Republicans and from broadsides from House Speaker John Boehner, whose sweeping claims that Obamacare has failed are only slightly less exaggerated than the rants of the tea party.

Where are their positive ideas for making health care more affordable? Or for ensuring that no man, woman or child in this country dies or gets progressively sicker because they cannot afford medicine or doctors? Why are Republicans pulling against those people?

Health care reform has had a painful time of it, to be sure. But indications are that the steps taken to improve the website, to make it possible for tens of thousands of people who want to sign up for insurance to sign up, are working. That ought to be something that all Americans can wish for. Republicans apparently are afraid that they will.

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