Guy Benson


Heather highlighted this story over the weekend, but it merits additional play. The Obama administration has mastered the art of Friday "news dumps" -- and although Politico's piece wasn't a traditional dump per se, the White House is certainly hoping the media will mostly ignore this story, which was published on Friday evening. Since the disastrous Obamacare launch in October, we've followed the troubled website's progress. We've noted testimony from administration officials that much of Healthcare.gov's so-called "back end" was still under construction, threatening to wreak untold havoc on consumers and providers. Now that some of the most dysfunctional state exchanges are weighing whether to fold their operations into the federal system -- with shambolic Cover Oregon being the first to take the plunge -- how is said federal operation holding up? Ahem:


The Obamacare website may work for people buying insurance, but beneath the surface, HealthCare.gov is still missing massive, critical pieces — and the deadline for finishing them keeps slipping. As a result, the system’s “back end” is a tangle of technical workarounds moving billions of taxpayer dollars and consumer-paid premiums between the government and insurers. The parts under construction are essential for key functions such as accurately paying insurers. The longer they lag, experts say, the likelier they’ll trigger accounting problems that could leave the public on the hook for higher premium subsidies or health care costs. It’s an overlooked chapter in the health care law’s story that has largely escaped scrutiny because consumers aren’t directly affected. Yet it bolsters the Republican narrative that the government has mishandled the implementation of Obamacare.

That's not so much a "Republican narrative" as it is a "patently obvious reality." As crucial pieces of the website continue to be built -- seven months after everything was supposed to be ready to do, and with updated "deadlines slipping" -- all sorts of problems may rear their head. Phantom enrollments, potentially leading to tragic confusion. And as the story points out, the potential for higher costs to families and taxpayers. One health insurance CEO recently stated that a significant portion of 2015's premium spikes are a direct result of the administration's haphazard and unpredictable "fixes" to Obamacare. One wonders how a messy data reconciliation process might continue to impact costs in the coming years. Another point we've made repeatedly is that the White House's chest thumping on enrollment figures is useless without an accurate sense of how many "enrollees" have actually completed the full process to obtain coverage. We know, for instance, that the administration missed badly on its target for "young invincible" sign-ups. We don't have any official national stats on payment delinquency, or the percentage of "new" enrollees who previously had coverage. Healthcare.gov's back end problems may very well require "sharp revisions" to the White House's PR-pumping enrollment figures, Politico reports:


Without a fully built and operational system, federal officials can’t determine how many of the 8 million Obamacare sign-ups announced last week will have actually paid their premiums. They won’t even know how many enrollment attempts were never completed. That, in turn, could affect the amount of money the government spends on premium subsidies. And once the system finally does all come on-line, the data delays could force a sharp revision in that celebrated 8 million figure...Senior officials said early last month that they hoped to have the entire system ready by the summer. Now, even summer appears to be a question mark. Officials at CMS — the federal agency overseeing HealthCare.gov and new insurance exchanges — refused to provide an update on just how much of the back end remains incomplete, the current issues they face and their latest timetable...“We have the mother of all reconciliations coming,” said insurance industry consultant Robsert Laszewski, using the official term for the correction. “It may be that the administration will not be able to give us a credible enrollment number until then because we really need a reconciliation to accomplish that.” CMS warned late last year that without a permanent system in place by mid-March, the whole law could unravel and expose taxpayers to a huge risk. The agency has since pulled back from that dire projection...The unfinished back end also has experts worried that the administration is relying on inaccurate estimates to calculate Obamacare’s financial impact.


Obama administration officials won't tell the media how close they are to meeting their goals, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence. As Americans wait for them to get their act together, the entire payment system is being held together by duct tape and loose estimates -- which, again, could result in patients falling through the cracks, and could stick US taxpayers with higher than necessary expenses. In spite of the media's "winning streak" cheerleading, many elected Democrats are heeding party pollsters' advice not to campaign on the unpopular law. The Huffington Post notes that many Senate Democratic candidates' websites omit any mention of the law, while The Hill reports that to many Democrats, "Obamacare is a four letter word:"


In a review of battleground races, The Hill found that out of 50 Democratic candidates with active campaign websites, only 11 mention the healthcare law by name, either as "ObamaCare," "Affordable Care Act," or "ACA." Fourteen more mention the law, but not its name, and half the candidates omit it entirely from their websites. President Obama has trumpeted that more than 8 million people have enrolled in ACA-related plans. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have been more cautious, focusing on jobs and the economy.


But not the "recovery," mind you, because that's a loser for them, too.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography