One might think that the most important days in the history of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, would already be in the past. The law certainly has already had highs and lows.
• Nov. 4, 2008, Election Day, was a key date as it sent then-Senator Obama to the White House and expanded Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
• The death of liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy on Aug. 25, 2009, arguably the Senate’s biggest champion of health care reform, and the ensuing election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to replace him on Jan. 19, 2010, were major challenges to its legislative approval.
• Obamacare’s biggest day came on March 23, 2010, when Vice President Joe Biden called it a “big f***ing deal” and President Obama signed the bill to make it law.
Yet it seems likely that the most important 100 days in Obamacare’s story are just beginning. The prologue to this time period began Oct. 1, 2013, when federal and state health care exchanges, such as Healthcare.gov and AccessHealthCT.com, went live and promptly became an epic failure. Millions of insurance policies are being cancelled, the website doesn’t work properly, and very few people have been able to purchase insurance through the exchange.
Over the next 100 days, federal and state officials face the challenge of fixing all these problems. How this process plays out will prove decisive for the law. If the problems can be fixed quickly, there is a good chance that Obamacare as originally designed will survive and become the principle conduit for Americans to purchase health insurance. But if the problems linger or grow during these 100 days, Obamacare may end up on the scrap heap of history sooner than expected.
Getting HealthCare.gov and the other state-based exchange websites working correctly is the first major hurdle for the law. Though work on the websites has already started, new testimony before Congress this week reveals that there likely are many more bumps in the road ahead as apparently 40 percent of the information technology infrastructure isn’t built yet.
The health insurance policy cancellation crisis created Mr. Obama’s credibility crisis on the issue since he spent years promising people could keep their current health insurance plan. Political pressure on this issue already led 38 Congressional Democrats, including CT-05 Rep. Elizabeth Esty, to break ranks with their party and vote for an Obamacare “fix.” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced on Friday, however, that there would be no fix for Connecticut residents with cancellation notices.
President Obama apologized and accepted responsibility for these and the other problems of Obamacare so far, but frustration and dissatisfaction are growing. His approval rating has already sagged to 38 percent and skittish Democratic legislators will become more so in the days ahead. They will be the key to the coming days.
They must be content, or compelled, to wait. Democratic legislators like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor must have faith in the bureaucrats and federal IT contractors that are now writing or re-writing the millions of lines of code that power HealthCare.gov. All the while, political opponents like Sen. Pryor’s likely challenger in next year’s Senate race, Rep. Tom Cotton, criticize him on a daily basis for supporting Obamacare. How long can they survive politically without offering to “temporarily delay” further implementation?
Worse for the President, the politically perilous holiday season is upon us. Legislators won’t be hunkered down in the echo chambers of Washington. They will be home in their districts to listen to their troubled constituents while Mr. Obama’s popularity continues to fade. Staking one’s political career on Obamacare will seem less and less like a good idea.
The President will still have cards to play. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secrectary Kathleen Sebelius, for example, will buy a bit of time, but not much. If the inevitable “things are slowly getting better” narrative doesn’t start to ring true by March, it will be the beginning of the end for Obamacare.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com