The beginning of the law's death spiral?
The initial announcement made at 3:30 p.m. EST revealed that 106,185 people nationwide had "selected" an ObamaCare health insurance plan. The word "selected" is critical here, because the administration was forced to admit the figure includes people who have signed up for the plan, but have yet to pay for their premiums. At the House Oversight Committee hearing on ObamaCare yesterday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) forced White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park to reveal the folly of the administration's position. "Have you ever shopped on Amazon.com? Chaffetz asked. "Yes sir," he replied. "When you put something in your shopping cart, is that considered a sale?" Chaffetz continued. "No," replied Park.
Thus, the "most transparent administration in history" continues to obfuscate, more than likely because there are a lot more Americans who have put a policy from ObamaCare in their "shopping cart," than those who have actually paid for a premium. As for shopping cart sales per se, the average shopping cart abandonment rate is 65.23 percent. A government-mandated product will undoubtedly see a lower abandonment rate, but the notion that the administration is counting shoppers as enrollees reeks of duplicity and desperation.
Indeed, the situation remains desperate with Healthcare.gov website. Of the more than 100,000 enrollees who have selected a health plan, only 26,794 of them were able to do so on the federal website, despite the reality it is used by 34 states. By comparison, the 16 state-run exchanges (plus the District of Columbia) garnered 79,391 enrollees. Thus, the signup rate at the federal website averaged a meager 744 enrollees per state. That’s a remarkably modest number for a website that has cost the taxpayers more than $600 million and counting.
Modesty aside, the total number of enrollees must be measured against the reality that as of mid-November, 4.8 million Americans have had their health insurance plans cancelled. That number is expected to rise exponentially. Depending on the source, the number of policies that will be cancelled ranges from 52 million, to as high as 93 million.
Administration officials tried to put a happy face on this ongoing debacle, noting that 975,407 applications out 1,081,582 eligible people made it through the enrollment process, but have yet to select a plan. They further noted that the state and federal exchanges had received 26,876,527 unique visitors. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius contends this shows how interested people are. "Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working, and people are enrolling," she said. "As more people shop and talk things over with their families, we expect these numbers to rise." Someone less optimistic might find the minuscule level of actual signups compared to the browsers troubling, especially given the horrifying numbers of Americans losing their health insurance every day.
Equally troubling is the reality that 396,261 people have been determined as being eligible for Medicaid. They will be enrolled in that plan as of January 1, 2014. Thus, the number of Americans who have selected a private health insurance policy that they will pay for mostly or completely by themselves, (depending on their eligibility for a subsidy) has been dwarfed by the number who are guaranteed to participate in "free" government-run insurance.
One's eligibility for subsidies became a hot topic this week, courtesy of James O'Keefe's Project Veritas. ObamaCare navigators at the National Urban League’s offices in Dallas were secretly videotaped advising enrollees how to game the system. One person was fired and three were suspended after the video was made public. The Urban League disavowed their behavior, but insisted that undercover applicants were speaking to were navigators-in-training and "the full context of these comments is not reflected in the video."
Regardless, the video underscored the perilous reality revealed during last week's Senate hearing. Under questioning by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sebelius was forced to admit there is no federal requirement mandating that navigators undergo a criminal background check, and that it was entirely possible a convicted felon could be hired to obtain sensitive personal information required to sign up for a plan.
Unsurprisingly, the political recriminations are ramping up in earnest. Former President Bill Clinton piled on Obama regarding his bald-faced lie that Americans who like their insurance plan could keep it. Clinton said Obama should keep his promise. "So I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got," Clinton said. According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Obama was on board with the idea.
That's a remarkable turnaround for a White House that has waged a steady campaign against "bad apple" insurance companies responsible for saddling Americans with "substandard” insurance plans.
It is also a pipe dream. As Jonathan Gruber, one of the authors of the Massachusetts health plan and an MIT economics professor, explains in an email, Obama is “just reacting to one broken promise by imposing a much larger and harmful one: our promise to insurers that if they priced fairly, we would deliver a broad pool of insured. If you allow the healthy enrollees to stay out in their old policy, the insurers lose money and the program falls apart.” Robert Laszewski, a health insurance industry consultant at Health Policy and Strategy Associates, echoes the futility of such an idea. "You just can’t send tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of ‘never mind’ letters out to policyholders on, maybe, a month’s notice,” he explains. “So an executive order to change the regs would be like putting Humpty Dumpty back together.”
Unfortunately for Obama, Bill Clinton isn't the only Democrat looking for a way out. Yesterday House Democrats handed the president a Friday deadline with regard to a fix-it-or-else ultimatum. That’s because Friday is when Republicans will be calling a vote on a proposal offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) to extend Americans' existing insurance policies for a year. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney ripped Upton's bill, even as he acknowledged that Obama has yet to come up with an alternative plan. Carney’s pronouncement was preceded by the ominous revelation that House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) was “not closed to the option" of voting in favor of Upton’s proposal. Other House Democrats are apparently less wishy-washy. “There will be defections,” a House Democratic leadership aide contended.
In other words, for the first time since ObamaCare was passed, some level of bipartisanship, no matter how ironic the context, may be achieved.
If it is, the president has no one to blame but himself. As bad as the rollout of the website has been, it was Obama himself who betrayed the trust of the American public. The devastating results contained in a new Quinnipiac poll taken Tuesday underscore that reality. Only 39 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing over all, and 52 percent no longer believe he is honest or trustworthy. Moreover, a whopping 73 percent of those polled want ObamaCare postponed--while a paltry 19 percent believe it will improve the U.S. healthcare system.
At yesterday's House hearing, Todd Park did his best to parse the language with regard to the website. When asked if the site would be working by the administration's promised deadline of November 30, Park said the team tasked with repairing it "is working incredibly hard to meet that goal." Jay Carney was equally imprecise, telling reporters that healthcare.gov is "on track" and will be working smoothly for the "vast majority" of consumers by the deadline. For the vast number of Americans whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by this entire fiasco, such transparent hedging is insulting. When it comes to peoples’ healthcare, “almost” isn't remotely good enough.
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