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Obamacare: Who's to Blame?


The latest development in the Obamacare debate is to pin the technical failures of federal exchanges on the Republican Party. The exchanges have traditionally been seen as a test of the Obama administration, for the simple reason that they were designed and implemented by the bureaucracy, isolated from Congress’ direct power to interfere or obstruct. But now ACA supporters are starting to argue that the GOP is responsible for the implementation failures because it ate up crucial time and money. Today NPR ran a representative example of the latest twist in the blame game:

When it became clear that HHS would need more money to build the federal exchange than had been allocated in the original law, Republicans in Congress refused to provide it.

As a result, said Angoff, officials “had to scrape together money from various offices within HHS to build the federal exchange.”

Then there was the timing issue…First there was waiting to see if the Supreme Court would overturn the law in the summer of 2012. (It didn’t.) Then there was waiting to see if Mitt Romney and a Republican Senate would be elected that November to repeal it. (They weren’t.)

Then it was another month waiting for states to decide if they wanted to build their own health exchanges or let the federal government do it for them.

An article in the WaPo, however, paints a different picture. Just a few days before the October 1 launch, a test simulation of the site showed that even a few hundred visitors would be enough to crash the site. Based on that, officials must have know the launch would be a disaster. It’s very hard to understand why, in that case, the administration didn’t delay the launch until the bugs had been fixed. Perhaps officials, using some mysterious logic, calculated that a delay of the launch would be more politically damaging than a botched launch.

Whatever the reason for the decision to push forward, it was made by the administration, not by the GOP. In fact, Obamacare supporters should be, if anything, thanking the GOP. Support for Obamacare is up 4 percent from last month. It’s hard to imagine that would have happened if the Capitol Hill sideshow hadn’t made at least some of the public think the botched launch was attributable to the GOP-led shutdown.

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  • jeburke

    Of course ACA supporters will try to spin this. But the fact remains that HHS had three years and $600 million to get this online exchange in order. It had no business waiting for either the courts or the election to proceed, since the law was…the law. Indeed, I’m sure HHS and the WH said repeatedly throughout that period that they were moving ahead.

  • qet

    The blame-the-GOP trope has what Stephen Colbert calls “Truthiness” for many millions of Americans. However, I don’t expect him to ridicule the believers like he did in 2005.

  • Jane the Actuary

    Why didn’t the administration delay the launch when they knew it would fail? Hubris. But what’s the likely outcome? Throwing good money after bad, until the costs reach into the billions.

    • Andrew Allison

      “Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power”. (
      ‘Nuff said!

  • mikeb330

    Bill Clinton would have “offered” the 1-year delay, and taken credit for it. Obama doubled down, at the risk of reminding voters of just what the GOP was opposed to. If the Dems don’t get this right, history may judge the shut down differently from today’s polls.

  • crabtown


    The Department of Health and Human Services has a budget in 2013 of $941,000,000,000. If HHS were a country, it would be the 16th richest in the world, between South Korea and Indonesia. If HHS were a state, it would be bigger than any of them except for California, Texas, and New York. HHS is bigger than the economies of Vermont, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Rhode Island, Maine, Idaho, New Hampshire, Delaware, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Mississippi combined. The District of Columbia is about the same size as HHS — and you can’t imagine that’s a coincidence.

  • crabtown


  • foobarista

    I’m still shocked at the $600M figure. Software startups, even ones with complex software requiring large data centers, lots of external interfaces, and steep compliance requirements typically either get to IPO or die with far less than 1/10 of that of investment – and most of their expenses aren’t typically in engineering.

    • Andrew Allison

      $634 million before the cost of the band-aids!

  • Andrew Allison

    Let’s see now, we have Medicare serving more people than are uninsured, we have Social Security serving four times as many, and the IRS serving the majority of taxpayers who file electronically. What went wrong with ACA? The answer, namely attempting too much too soon, seems pretty obvious. The solution, namely delay the individual mandate for a year (which would take the pressure off the system while it’s being fixed) is equally obvious, but isn’t going to happen because the Administration just endured a partial government shutdown to avoid that very thing. We are spectators at a train wreck which can only get worse.

  • rheddles

    It’s time to replace the Obamacare logo for these posts with a picture of a train wreck.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Without the Feedback of Competition, everything the Government does looks like a dirt pie made by a three year old. The only way to avoid most of the waste, inefficiency, and corruption of Government is to limit the size and scope of the Government to only those tasks enumerated in the Constitution as the 10th Amendment requires.

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Healthcare isn’t enumerated anywhere in the Constitution, therefore the Government doesn’t have the authority to tax and spend money on it.

    • Andrew Allison

      While, being one myself, I am in agreement with your Libertarian leanings, it’s a bit more complicated that you suggest. Where, for example, is the competition for those things which the Constitution does permit the Federal government to do?
      The issue here, IMO, is whether heath care is a sufficiently universal need that it should be provided by the Federal government. If so, it must necessarily be single-payer and there’s no place for private insurance companies.
      As I have commented before on this topic, I’m one of the 16 million Americans enjoying the benefits of the single-payer plan known as Medicare and thus don’t have a dog in this fight, but think that if, as a society, we want to provide health care to all, there’s only one affordable approach, namely that adopted by every other developed country.
      Forgive me if I anticipate some of the belief-based nonsense from those ideologically opposed to single-payer health insurance: the USA is number 30 in infant mortality, the leading cause of infant mortality is preterm birth, and the leading cause of preterm birth is inadequate prenatal care. Meanwhile, the difference in longevity between, e.g., the US and the UK (home to the much-maligned NHS) is steadily widening. Tell me again how great the US system is. It is, in fact, a disgrace which ACA will do little, if anything, to change because it fails to recognize that private insurance companies exist to make money, not provide care.

  • bigfire

    Blame that Antichrist Bush. He’s been doing it for 6 years, why stop now?

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