Obamacare: A Careless and Clumsy Launch


(The Root) — It turns out that over the past four years, all those times President Barack Obama told Americans that "if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it," it wasn't quite as simple as it sounded.

In politics, after all, if you can fit a proposal on a bumper sticker, there's a chance that it sounds better on the campaign trail than it does in reality.


And getting a four-Pinocchio score from the Washington Post on a claim like that really has a way of ruining one of your better talking points.

As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait suggests, the most charitable way to explain the president's imprecise claim is that he "intended to convey that those who already had insurance through their job or through Medicare would not be forced onto the new healthcare exchanges."

Which makes sense — the president was hedging against overheated charges of "socialism" and "death panels" from Republicans fighting tooth and nail to prevent passage of the Affordable Care Act.

But it was also careless, and technically wrong.

Because even though Obamacare isn't — as its opponents often like to charge — designed to siphon away the fundamental freedoms of the American people, it will, indeed, require some folks currently on cut-rate coverage plans to buy more robust plans — some at a higher price.

That's not exactly how it was explained, though. And even if we've all become slowly conditioned to take everything our politicians say with a grain of salt, you can't really fault people for relying on a blanket statement like "If you like it, you can keep it."

So even if there's an Obamacare success story for every tale of Obamacare disaster, because it was Obama who made the pitch — in two national elections — that government plays an essential role in changing people's lives for the better, it's on him to instill public confidence in Obamacare.


And it won't help anyone, Obama included, if advisers like Valerie Jarrett tweet excuses like this:


It just makes the people at the White House look as if they're papering over, and not trying to fix, the problem.

Plus, their rollout has been so slack, it makes you wonder if the people running it lost sight of the fact that Obamacare passed without any Republican votes. Or that that it gave the once-directionless Tea Party a target. Or that Mitt Romney, the individual mandate's godfather, had to constantly fight off the "Obam-ney-care" attack line in order to win the 2012 GOP nomination.


They had no choice but to get this stage of the implementation right — and their failure to prepare for the launch of HealthCare.gov or to outline how the law works amounts to political malpractice.

Although the buck stops with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for problems with the HealthCare.gov rollout — it should have been her top priority all along — the buck still stops with the president for never successfully educating a majority of the public on the outlines and objectives of the ACA.


Unlike other issues tackled during Obama's tenure — Afghanistan, Iraq, recession, immigration — this project wasn't sitting in the president's inbox when he arrived in office. He wanted to do this.

So when the president says — as he did Wednesday in Boston — that "some people will move from cheaper insurance to fuller coverage because the law is intended to help not only the uninsured but also the underinsured," it's a pretty helpful explanation.


But it's one that he should have rolled out much sooner.

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter