To say that the Patient Protec- tion and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, made a less than stellar impression during its rollout last month may well rank as the greatest understatement of the year. Many consider its debut a disaster. Consider:
The launch of the ACA website took place on the same day as the start of the massive 16-day shutdown of the federal government, caused largely by controversy over Obamacare. Governmentwide confusion couldn’t help but spoil the coming-out party for the nationalized health-care network.
Throughout October, millions of would-be registrants for Obamacare encountered delays, crashes and agonizingly slow responses from the healthcare.gov website, further aggravating confusion and anger over the ACA.
In late October, millions of Americans were stunned to learn that their current health insurance would be canceled because of ACA, a direct contradiction of a vow repeatedly made by President Barack Obama.
As a result of these and other missteps, miscues and misinformation, many Republicans are clamoring for the resignation or firing of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius amid renewed calls for repeal of the ACA.
Neither canning Sebelius nor trashing Obamacare makes sense politically or for the long-term and sensible goal of providing health insurance to the vast majority of Americans. The underlying premise of Obamacare remains credible, and Sebelius, sometimes referred to as the Cover Girl for the program, deserves an opportunity to repair the system so that it can meet its noble goals.
APOLOGY FROM HHS LEADER
We commend Sebelius for her forthright recognition of the problems with the website, her acceptance of responsibility and her pledge to make improvements. “You deserve better. I apologize. Hold me accountable for the debacle” she said in testimony Wednesday before the U.S. House Energy Commerce Committee.
Sebelius and other decision-makers with HHS do merit criticism for acting too hastily in launching the website, particularly given new revelations that the Obama administration rushed headfirst into the Oct. 1 launch despite repeated warnings that the site was not ready for millions of potential users. An internal government memo, written days before the website opened, warned of a “high” security risk because it hadn’t been adequately tested.
Though Sebelius deserves and accepts blame, the Ohio native does not deserve to be booted from her Cabinet-level position that makes her the chief watchdog over the program. Years of knowledge and experience she has gleaned would be lost, thereby potentially opening a whole new can of worms for the troubled ACA.
Nor does she deserve the mean-spirited ad hominem attacks by Republicans such as Newt Gingrich who on Wednesday called the HHS secretary a bigger liar than former President Richard M. Nixon.
Such hyperbole and political grandstanding will not serve a crippled Republican Party well as it stands on the threshold of critical 2014 congressional elections. Nor will it serve any useful purpose in repairing the obvious flaws in Obamacare.
But Republicans are not alone in their need to tone down exaggerated rhetoric about the health care law. Some Democrats, including President Obama, have been guilty of overselling the program.
In a speech Wednesday night in Boston, Obama acknowledged that his earlier proclamations that no one would be cut from their current health-insurance policies were not completely true. He said the millions of Americans who have had their insurance canceled had “cut-rate” policies that did not provide adequate coverage when people got sick.
The Affordable Care Act requires certain types of minimum coverage and ends discrimination that has led to higher costs and cancellations for women and people with pre-existing medical conditions, the president explained. He also noted that the Massachusetts state health-care reform law, upon which ACA is modeled encountered a number of annoying bugs during its initial rollout.
WHAT CONGRESS SHOULD DO
Clearly both political parties have some fence mending to work on in coming days and weeks. The president, his party and his administration can start by being completely open and honest about the provisions of the extremely complex health care system. Republicans can tone down the rhetoric, abandon calls for Sebelius to quit and end their time-wasting efforts to abolish the program in its totality.
Both parties then should come together amicably to diagnose and cure ongoing flaws with Obamacare. In doing so, the Affordable Care Act can still have a viable chance of fulfilling its honorable promise of reduced health care costs and improved access to quality medical care for the vast majority of Americans.