Peter Lee is going to need a copy of The Happiest Life, and very soon, because his 2014 looks like it will be miserable, though not as miserable as he will have made the start of the new year for hundreds of thousands of Californians whom Lee has failed.
Lee is the number one guy at what may prove to be the biggest failure of many big failures in the state Obamacare exchanges. He is the executive director of CoveredCA.com, Obamacare's poster-child for state exchanges which is slowly but surely being exposed as an enormous and costly flop. A year ago, Lee was the Sacramento Business Journal's "executive to watch" in 2013. Now he's hiding from the press and his agency is hunkered down amid a growing storm of bad news, broken promises, and unmet goals.
Exchanges in Oregon, Minnesota and Maryland are getting most of the bad press --with Jim Geraghty noting today that Maryland is getting close to folding its tent and giving up-- but for sheer size of failure given ambitions-not-met and budget-spent, Lee's CoveredCA.com has got to be number one.
When enrollment opened, CoveredCA.com came up with a magic number of 487,000 subsidy-eligible enrollees by 4/1/14 as a bare minimum success number. That could only have been a very low bar arbitrarily set to guarantee "success" given that the national goal is 7 million enrollees. Even that low bar is proving too high, though, and sooner or later the real reporters are going to start digging into this epic failure and the man atop it.
The "progress" towards that minimum number of 487,000 subsidized enrollees cannot be known since the exchange's refusal to publish timely updates on enrollment data is pronounced. But we do know that
This latest snafu comes weeks after the Los Angeles Times reported that "California's health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn't ask to be contacted."
If the Times or other California journalists devoted even a tenth of the energy they did to investigating Meg Whitman's house-keeper's immigration status or Arnold's affairs, Lee's reign of errors would already be over. Thus far, though, there has been mostly cheer leading from the West Coast branch of the MSM, and a refusal to do even basic digging on the size of the state exchange's marketing budget, who got the dough, and the cost-per-enrollment (both public cost, and the real cost, which would include the massive expenditures by not-for-profits like the California Endowment.)
Millions and millions have been spent on marketing, but instead of hundreds of thousands of enrollees, the site is the source of scores of tales of woe and incompetence.
Lee's supporters keep hoping the woefully unqualified nice guy somehow manages to turn things around, but this is the easiest part of the process. When small businesses get their coverage cancelled next year and are then thrown on to CoveredCA.com, the California nightmare will hit stage two,three and beyond --right in the middle of Jerry Brown's re-election campaign, and those of every other state wide official and all of the state's Assembly, half of its State Senate, and more than a few wobbly Democratic Congressional incumbents.
California's insurance commissioner Dave Jones estimated last month that more than a million Californians had had their health insurance cancelled because of Obamacare. Hard to imagine many Democrat votes from among those folks and their family members.
Nor is CoveredCA.com helping to fill the gap that the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika created and which Jerry Brown and Peter Lee manage. In October and November, 777,000 applications were begun on the website, according to CoveredCA.com, but less than 110,000 people actually "enrolled." (And who knows how many will make a payment, even if today's bungled letter-to-enrollees melt down is corrected quickly.) It is a long way from 110,000 to the bare minimum of success at 487,000, and time has all but run-out, which explains the panicky Tweet that issued from CoveredCA,com today urging people to pay attention to the lateness of the hour.
In the midst of this massive fail, however, Mr. Lee is blogging about Nelson Mandela. So did I and Mandela is a great subject, but not for government officials presiding over a major train wreck, especially not for the one driving the train.
Lee is clearly an idealist, as we can tell from his Mandela-blog, where he wrote:
Thirty years ago, when I was at Berkeley, I was inspired by Mandela’s work to end apartheid in his country. As a student, I was part of a broad movement across our country to support nonviolent and transformational change in South Africa.
Today, I am still inspired by his ability to forgive and consistently seek to do the right thing in the face of injustice. Here at Covered California, we strive to consistently do the right thing, in the face of the constant barrage of misinformation and attempts to bring down the Affordable Care Act. With Mandela in mind, my resolve to build on his legacy continues.
Jerry Brown is an idealist too, and one who is widely expected to breeze to an enormous re-election victory in the 2014 governor's race.
But is his early polling lead so large and the field of potential opponents so weak that Brown can indulge Lee in another year of failures so large that the media cannot help but notice and which consumers already have?
Jerry Brown 1.0 got caught by surprise by Prop 13. Will he allow his second turn at the Golden State's helm be ruined by a lousy law he had nothing to do with in its drafting but the implementation of which is 100% his responsibility? Even if he remains supremely confident, does he want to lose his super-majority in the state legislature? Will endangered Congressional Democrats stand by while Lee and his band of idealists destroy the insurance market in the country's biggest state?
It may not be possible to make Obamacare work --especially when the real costs and secondary impacts are known.
But Governor Brown has many enormously skilled people in the state, and some of them, including his much admired wife (and top aide) Anne Gust Brown, close at hand. Surely he can find someone who level with the taxpayers and the medical and insurance community about the scale of the mess and what will be necessary to fix it.