Instead of being remembered for fundamentally changing the health care landscape in America for the better, President Barack Obama may instead go down as one of the most disconnected, too-cool-for-school chief executives in U.S. history.
And he better hope that it doesn’t get any worse than that, for his flubbing of the Obamacare rollout threatens the very success of what is otherwise a noble attempt to make sure everybody has adequate and affordable medical insurance.
That was the whole point of the Affordable Care Act when Obama signed it into law in 2010. And from that point on, despite the law’s flaws, he should have made its execution his number one domestic priority. Obviously, he didn’t.
Instead of constantly reassuring everybody that Obamacare was going to make things better, Obama should have been in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ business like the drill sergeant from “An Officer and a Gentleman,” insisting the HealthCare.gov website be ready for the Oct. 1 rollout.
Now the president looks like Professor Harold Hill, the flim-flam artist from “The Music Man” who promised River City a boys band with no intention of ever delivering. That may seem overly harsh — no one suggests Obama wanted his marquis domestic program to stumble.
Yet where was the oversight? Heck, it has been reported that HealthCare.gov wasn’t even fully tested until two weeks prior to go-time and that 24 hours after it opened for business, only six people had managed to sign up.
A good leader knows when to get personally involved and when to leave something to his subordinates.
That said, the website failures are not the end of the world. It’s a website, not a nuclear weapons verification treaty. HealthCare.gov can be fixed. But it needs to be fixed soon or fast workarounds found to make sure that everyone who wants to sign up or wants to explore his or her options for switching insurance can do so in a secure, efficient and reliable way.
After successfully staring down the more radical wing of the congressional Republicans who shut down the government in an attempt to defund Obamacare, the president could have scored even more points by delivering what he’s been promising for more than three years.
Instead, Obama’s popularity has dropped through the floor. You can bet the Republican Party is salivating at the opportunity for big gains during next year’s midterm elections.
So, what now? Sebelius testified before Congress that’s she’s accountable for the mess while Obama has said the problems need to get fixed, ASAP. Ya think.
The rollout of Obamacare was always about the details, and yet Obama has come across as disconnected from the whole process.
He needs to re-engage quickly. He must keep Sebelius in office only because it would be more disruptive to the process to fire her — but he needs to be omnipresent at HHS until this is fixed. If the U.S. government can sweep up the phone calls of millions of Americans and most of the leaders in Europe, surely it can figure out how to get one website operating.
Obama has also been rapped, rightly, for his misstatement that everyone who wanted to could keep his or her health insurance plans could do so. Obviously that was a gross exaggeration. A number of Americans with individual plans are getting cancellation notices.
Yes, as the president suggests, most of these plans were probably lousy to begin with and now don’t meet the standards of Obamacare. But when Obama then says that all that people have to do is shop around for a better deal, we’re back to the problem website. The very portal that allows all of this to take place isn’t up to snuff.
It’s almost unimaginable that Obama could be so careless as to have allowed his signature legislation to debut so miserably. He has let down millions of uninsured Americans and lost the faith of perhaps millions more who thought he was on the right track.
In one sense, he is on the right track. Making sure that all Americans have access to decent health care and preventative care while also trying to slow the pace of medical cost inflation remain essential to the U.S. economy.
That’s why Obama needs to recommit himself to bringing his health care reforms to fruition before they derail entirely.
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This article was written by the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.