Another Darned Deadline

Deadlines are the bane of a writer’s existence, but none have been so annoying as the deadline for enrollment in Obamacare.
Despite our best efforts to ignore it, that seemed to be all that was in the news on Monday. The right-wing radio hosts would grouse about it for most of the hour, raising all sorts of reasonable questions about the numbers the administration was touting, and then the network news feeds would fill a few minutes with a breathless recitation of the same numbers and none of the required answers, and one of the television networks was giddily announcing a new poll that shows almost half the country likes the law. On the whole, the right-wing radio hosts were more convincing.
The law’s eponymous administration is claiming that it might reach a goal of seven million enrollees, but the number is as dubious as that poll show near-majority approval. So far no one’s saying how many of those enrollees have actually paid a premium, or how many previously had insurance that was cancelled because of the law, or how many have put on Medicaid or other programs that pre-dated Obamacare, or how many of them that are the healthy young people forced to buy more insurance than they need in order to subsidize the whole boondoggle, and even the most generous assumptions of governmental honesty and the most optimistic guesses still leave them short of covering all the 20 or 30 million or however many uninsured people they were promising to help. The upbeat coverage of deadline might have left the impression that is all is well, but even the most trusting and optimistic media will eventually be obliged to report more discouraging stories.
In the meantime, we expect more happy talk from the press about Obamacare’s progress. Whatever problems prove too hard to ignore, we expect the Democratic congressional candidates will promise to fix them, and that no one on the networks will ask why they didn’t fix them in the first place. Nor will they ask what’s going to happen when the administration finally gets around to the disasters employers’ mandate, as that deadline can always be put off until after the next elections.

— Bud Norman

The Privilege of Paying

One has to admire the steadfastness, if nothing else, of the president’s most die-hard supporters. Lately they must feel like Millerites on the day after the world was supposed to end, still insisting despite The Great Disappointment that all the prophecies were true.
The unfolding Obamacare debacle is especially testing for the true believer’s faith, as it is has now become indisputable that millions who liked their insurance plan their doctors won’t be able to keep them, most will see increased costs rather than a $2,500 annual windfall, millions will remain uninsured, at least one dime will be added to the national debt, and none of the other grandiose promises will ever be kept. Some will go right ahead and dispute it, insisting that it’s all lies told by hateful racists intent on preventing the president from heroically saving the country, but these days even the non-Fox media are reporting the bad news and there are more people with very authentic-looking cancellation letters than could possibly be in on even the vastest right-wing conspiracy. A more inventive apologetics is now required to justify the prophesy of hope and change, and the more inventive apologists seem to have seized on the argument people just don’t realize how lucky they are.
Consider the case of poor Lori Gottlieb, who recently penned an op-ed piece for the notoriously right-wing New York Times to lament that Obamacare had caused her to lose the insurance plan she liked and was promised she could keep and has forced her to pay an extra $5,400 a year for a plan that includes maternity coverage and other features she does not need. Her bigger gripe, though, was that when she posted her complaints on Facebook she found little sympathy for her plight and instead was peppered with comments that she was a selfish shrew who should be grateful for the privilege of contributing to a system that will provide quality medical care to everyone. Gottlieb is apparently a committed liberal, judging by the Facebook friends she keeps and the fact that she doesn’t dispute the preposterous premise that everyone will now be getting quality medical care, but she’s not so commited that she’s willing to shell out an extra $5,400 a year for utopia and she seems rather disappointed that her fellow liberals aren’t a bit more sympathetic to her own workingman’s plight.
Some of the professional Democrats trotted out the same appeal to altruism a while back, but it seems to have polled poorly or the focus groups didn’t like it as they have since moved on to inflating their enrollment numbers and downplaying the technical problems and dismissing all those part time jobs as anecdotal evidence and otherwise insisting that things are not so bad as they might seem. Trying to tell the likes of Lori Gottlieb that she should be happy to cough up a sizeable chun of her family’s income for a system that is going to lower the quality of medical care for everyone and leave millions uninsured was always going to be difficult, and the true believers’ continued efforts to do so reek of desperation.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue Meets Obamacare

While browsing through the television channels Sunday afternoon during one of those interminable commercial breaks in a professional football game, we happened upon an advertisement for Obamacare. Although the spot didn’t mention Obamacare by name, it was extolling the wonders of the healthcare.gov web site that was intended to bring all the bountiful benefits of President Barack Obama’s namesake health care law to a grateful public. The very perky and pretty people featured in the advertisement seemed grateful, indeed, as they excitedly chanted the ad campaign’s catchphrase of “We’re covered!”
At the risk of sounding cynically suspicious of anything that Madison Avenue and the Washington bureaucracy might join forces to concoct, we’re pretty sure those grateful people are paid actors. They’re all perkier and prettier than any real people of our acquaintance, for one thing, and their gratitude for Obamacare greatly exceeds the normal person’s. They also look quite prosperous and up-to-date and free of any noticeable existing pre-conditions, hardly the sort of involuntarily uninsured hard-luck cases that Obamacare was intended to help, and given the widely-publicized difficulties that people have encountered in slogging through the healtcare.gov web site’s endless glitches, and given how many of those lucky few have experienced sticker shock at the prices posted at the end of the frustrating process, it seems unlikely that a sufficient number of people so very grateful could have been rounded up on such short notice since the law recently went into effect. The odds that these extraordinarily lucky few would all turn out to be so perky, pretty, prosperous, and up-to-date seem staggering. If our suspicions are correct they’re probably dues-paying members of the Screen Actors Guild and are grateful their policies might yet be protected by one of those waivers the government has been handing out to unions, which would explain how they managed to seem so darned sincere when chanting the “We’re covered!” catchphrase.
Still, it was an impressive piece of advertising. The spot had the same expensive look about it as the ones the big corporations were running to make their dubious pitches, with professional graphics and brisk editing and no oleaginous pitchmen wildly swinging their arms as they scream for the viewer to come on down and take advantage of their low, low prices. A peppy and professional soundtrack and the bright lighting and clear cinematography added to the upbeat feelings the ad inspires, much like in the ads intended to make buyers feel good about their choice of dishwashing lotion or cancer treatment center, and the fact that the ad avoided the words “Obamacare” or even the euphemistic “Affordable Care Act” suggests that it was carefully subjected to the scrutiny of countless focus groups.
Even with such formidable marketing, however, Obamacare will likely prove a tough sell. Insurance premiums are going up in most states, millions of people will lose the policies they had been promised they could keep, employers everywhere are offering only part-time work rather than deal with the costs and paperwork that now come with a full-time job, and the whole scheme requires persuading healthy young people with low-paying jobs and bleak prospects to pay higher prices for more insurance than they currently need. The ad we saw seems designed to convince the middle-class people least affected by Obamacare that it’s all for the good, those deficits and unemployment numbers and the potential loss of coverage notwithstanding, but it won’t do much to get that uninsured twenty-something with the rock band tattoo to slog through a computer program designed by the Three Stooges and pay money he doesn’t have for something he doesn’t need. Better ads than Obamacare have failed to create a market for better products than Obamacare, and the ones that make their pitch to the wrong audience always fail.
Perhaps some shrewd ad man can come up with something better suited to the young and healthy and uninsured, but it is hard to for an amateur to imagine what it might be. The pig on some other insurance company’s commercials seems to be popular with the young folk, but we wonder how many of them are signing up for his product, although we’re not sure what it. That “Flo” woman who represents another of the insurance has a youthful appeal and irreverent sense of humor, and looks as if she might even sport a tattoo or two beneath her white uniform, but we’re not sure what company she’s selling. If all else fails there’s also the old honesty shtick, and we can envision an ad with a hip-hop soundtrack and fashionably unshaven spokesmen telling a young audience that they voted for Obama and his hope and change slogans so now it’s time to pay up. Boondoggles such as Obamacare don’t come cheap, the ads could say, and neither do the advertising campaigns required to make you like it.

— Bud Norman

An Inauspicious Beginning

We give a cordial welcome to any new readers who might have been redirected to these pages by some strange glitch in the Obamacare web sites. No health care insurance plans can be found here, and we are quite unable to provide any subsidies, but we can offer plenty of commiseration to anyone frustrated by the federal government’s inept attempts at running the nation’s health care system.
Tuesday was the much-ballyhooed debut of Obamacare’s “health-care exchanges,” a key feature of the controversial law’s convoluted scheme, and by all accounts it did not go well. The computerized marketplace established by the government to enroll Americans in an approved health care policy was overwhelmed by traffic, marred by a variety of other technical problems, and proved infuriatingly confusing to those lucky enough to make a connection. Even the highly supportive staff at the MSNBC news outfit gave up on trying to demonstrate the program’s success after being put on hold for 35 minutes.
Should the fiasco shake your faith in the almighty power of the federal bureaucracy to micro-manage the one-sixth of America’s economy that is our once-vaunted health care system, which might even cause you to question its ability to run the other five sixths, be assured that some carefully-crafted excuses have already been offered.
One attempt to find a silver lining somewhere in the gathering storm clouds is the official line that the computer system was simply unable to cope with so darned many people trying at once to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that Obamacare so generously affords. Too much “interest” in the exchanges was how they put it, as if the interest was a result of widespread enthusiasm for the law rather the heavy fines it will impose on anyone who doesn’t slog through the obligatory labyrinthine to obtain coverage, so what might look to an uninformed observer like an abject failure is actually proof of too much success. When Venezuela’s socialistic price controls resulted in a toilet paper shortage earlier this year its government officials cited the problem as proof that they had succeeded all too well at feeding the people, but the Obamacare apologists might well have broken this previous world record for audacity.
Another explanation was that too many of the people seeking health coverage on the exchanges simply weren’t sophisticated enough to deal with the process. One might expect that the largely elderly, or low-income, or unemployed population that would be most in need of the exchanges’ offerings were not the most computer savvy among us, but apparently the possibility was never considered by the people now in charge of running health care in America. This is not reassuring.
Obamacare’s eponymous President Barack Obama downplayed the problems by noting that even such exemplars of the private sector as the Apple computer and telephone empire have experienced similar technical problems. No one is compelled by law and the threat of fines to deal with Apple, however, and that provides the company with an incentive to find a quick fix which does not exist for the firmly entrenched bureaucrats running the Obamacare scheme. These words come to you through an Apple-made device which has proved far more reliable and efficient than any branch of the government, and we would prefer that some similar self-interested companies were competing for our health care dollars without governmental interference.

— Bud Norman