The GOP isn't the only group finally giving some post-shutdown attention to the White House's troubled healthcare.gov exchange site. Tomorrow, President Obama will give a Rose Garden speech "directly address[ing] the technical problems" of the Affordable Care Act exchange site. According to White House officials, the President will characterize those issues as " "unacceptable." But we already know how the administration has promised to fix the site, as the president's political opponents roll out their post-shutdown efforts on the flawed roll-out of a key piece of Obamacare reform: with a "tech surge."
The Department of Health and Human Services released a statement on Sunday outlining the issues and the first round of fixes to the site, which includes hiring "some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government" to jump in "surge" the agency's capacity to fix ongoing bugs. They'll have their work cut out for them. Healthcare.gov's issues are wide-ranging: there's capacity problem for starters, something the administration has squeezed into lemonade: the half a million submitted health insurance applications submitted to date, they say, "confirms that the American people are looking for quality, affordable health coverage, and want to find it online." The site had 19 million unique views since launching at the beginning of October. There are also deeper, back-end problems: for instance, the site was apparently sending the wrong information to some health insurance providers. By the numbers, the administration has just under a month to get the site back on track, or else it risks missing its enrollment target for this year.
So, why is President Obama giving a speech about a glitchy website in the Rose Garden? Because this isn't just any website, and this isn't just any botched launch. This is an Obamacare website. This is the president's signature reform, the very same one that many Republicans want to obliterate. House Republicans have already called for the resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and planned a hearing for this week on the site straight out of the Benghazi playbook: "Implementation Failures: Didn't Know or Didn't Disclose?" will focus its investigation on whether there was an "internal cover-up" over the glitchy site, and how far up the chain of command that perceived cover-up goes.
Although the GOP was kind of busy during the first weeks of the Healthcare.gov launch with its own problems, Obamacare opponents are hoping that the nation will establish a metonymic connection between the troubled site and the entire health care reform law. That, it turns out has been more of a mixed bag, as many efforts to make the law seem like the end of America haven't held up to scrutiny. Salon made a splash last week by fact checking six Hannity guests who claimed a variety of ills from the health care law, including drastically raised premiums and stalled business ventures. In reality, it turns out that Obamacare ills were not caused by the law at all: the guests could get lower premiums than their original plans on the exchanges (which they hadn't visited). The business owner claiming his company had stalled because of Obamacare requirements had far too few employees for any part of the reform law to apply. This isn't the first time an Obamacare horror story has turned out to be less than it seems.
There have been some not-made-up issues beyond the website, however: despite a comment by President Obama indicating otherwise, thousands of Americans have been told this year that they can't keep their current individual health insurance plans. Many of those individuals will be able to buy comparable or cheaper plans from their providers or on the exchange, but the seeming contradiction has proved frustrating. Speaking of confusion, in 17 states, conservative lawmakers have dropped as many roadblocks in possible in the path of the administration's initiative to hire "navigators" to help Americans sign up for health insurance. And in states where (mostly) Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid, millions of impoverished Americans who make to little to qualify for a subsidy have been completely left out of the health care reform law's plan to provide affordable coverage.