In which The Blaze breathlessly "exposes" the least-shocking ACA news ever.
Did Obama Cover Up Real Reason for Obamacare Website Crash?
Nearly two years after its failed launch, there still remain more questions than answers, but perhaps the recent King v. Burwell case has subtly lifted the veil on the real reason for the crash.
Hmmmm..."subtly lifted the veil"? I'm intrigued! Do go on...
At the time of the HealthCare.gov crash, Obama’s media spin doctors insisted the site’s failure was caused by “extremely high” traffic, as Sebelius reiterated in an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. According to Sebelius, nearly 20 million people visited the site in just the first three weeks, a volume site designers simply weren’t prepared for.
This excuse, repeated countless times by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and others, makes little sense upon close examination. If the Obama administration expected its signature program to be successful, why wouldn’t nearly 20 million people visit the site? Shouldn’t HealthCare.gov’s designers have been prepared for the possibility a good many of the more than 30 million people who were said to be without health insurance could visit the site within the first few weeks?
Many have chalked this blunder up to just another failure of big government, but I think a much more logical explanation explains the website’s failure—and it has to do with cases such as King v. Burwell.
You can feel the suspense building!!
The defense employed by the Obama administration against the claim that such an action violated the obvious mandates in the Obamacare legislation had to be that the language referring to the “states” was vague and open to interpretation. The real intent of the law, the Obama administration insisted, was for the subsidies to be available to everyone, regardless of which exchange health insurance was purchased in.
Yes, yes; we all know that thanks to 6 months of a ton of healthcare reporters, politicos, wonks and myself wasting our time, energy and breath over an extremely silly court case...
This helps explain the obvious flaws of the HealthCare.gov website.
If the Obama administration, at the time of the passage of Obamacare, expected most states to establish their own exchanges because it knew that’s what the law required in order to gain access to the subsidies, it makes sense the federal website wasn’t designed with 20 million visitors in mind. Nearly every state would presumably have its own marketplace and dedicated website, so traffic to the federal exchange would be limited.
GASP!!! What??? My God, man!!! I'm shocked, shocked I say!!
Actually, that's not even remotely shocking.
Although it doesn’t prove the case, the billowing smoke behind this fire is more conspicuous than ever: The HealthCare.gov website was never intended to handle the millions of people who eventually tried to use it, because the plan had always been, as Obamacare clearly lays out, for the states to create their own exchanges rather than rely on the federal government—just as the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argued.
Billowing smoke??? Fire??? Give me a break.
This isn't exactly breaking news, Mr. Haskins. Everyone knows that HC.gov was never originally intended to have 3 dozen states glommed onto it. They always assumed that perhaps a handful of smaller states would do so, but that the rest would be more than happy to accept tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to set up their own full tech platforms. They ended up being wrong, as LOLGOP noted at the National Memo shortly after the exchanges launched:
Cannon believes he has found a loophole in the law that could end up undoing it in any state that didn’t set up an exchange. With that in mind, he helped successfully convince every state with a Republican governor to reject their right to build their own site.
By opting out, states made the success of the president’s signature legislative accomplishment dependent on one single portal that needed to reach its tentacles into three dozen complex insurance markets at one time.
That — it turns out — is a lot more complicated than the administration expected it to be.
The fact that only about 1/3 of the states ever did so doesn't "prove" anything, other than that Michael Cannon and the CATO Institute were pretty successful in convincing practically every Republican-controlled state not to set up an exchange, specifically in order to maximize damage from an expected eventual King v. Burwell win...as detailed by Alec MacGillis way back in November 2013:
Well, a disproportionate share of the credit or blame—depending on how you’re looking at it—goes to a person you’ve probably never heard of: Michael Cannon.
Cannon is a health care policy expert at the libertarian Cato Institute. He is engaging and sharp-witted. He is also an avowed opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and has for several years now been embarked on a legal crusade that, while a ways from triumphing, may have inadvertently played an outsized role in suppressing the number of states setting up their own exchanges, thereby greatly confounding the law’s implementation.
Cannon’s crusade, which has been joined by Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler, is driven by the conviction that there is a debilitating hole in the law: as written, they argue, it provides subsidies to help people buy individual health insurance plans only in exchanges set up by the states, not by the federal government. Cannon maintains that this was deliberate, as an incentive to get the states to set up exchanges, and that the federal government is violating the law by offering subsidies on the federal exchange. Defenders of the law say this is hogwash, that the wording flaw he has identified is a semantic oversight, and that it was plainly understood at every step of the law’s drafting—to Democrats, Republicans, and budget analysts tallying the law’s costs—that the subsidies would be available on the federal exchange. After all, the exchange would collapse without subsidies to help lower and middle-income people afford coverage. For more, see my colleague Jonathan Cohn’s summary a year ago.
If you click that link, it takes you to Johnathan Cohn's explanation of what would eventually become the King v. Burwell case...from December 2012:
Cannon became a leading advocate for its repeal. And since he understood the law might survive both the courts and the 2012 elections, as it eventually did, he also made the case that states should avoid complicity in its implementation—and, if possible, actively thwart it. He made that case in his writing and speeches, sometimes directly to the officials with responsibility for implementing the law.
One of the arguments he’s made is a legal one, the result of acollaboration with Jonathan Adler, a widely cited libertarian law professor at Case Western University. The state of Oklahoma has filed alawsuit in federal court, making the same essential case. (I haven’t been able to establish to what extent, if any, Oklahoma officials relied on the Adler-Cannon brief, but the arguments are very close. And no single individual has done more to make the case for state resistance to Obamacare than Cannon.) Note that the lawsuit doesn't have to succeed to cause trouble: Merely by emboldening state officials hostile to the law, it could make implementation, already a challenge, even more difficult.
The legal argument focuses on Obamacare’s insurance exchanges—the new marketplaces where people without access to insurance will be able to buy private coverage on their own, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions and with the help of federal subsidies. The law calls upon states to create and operate exchanges, so that coverage is available starting on January 1, 2014. Anytime a state fails to do so, the law says, the federal government should create and run that state’s exchange instead.
Etc, etc, etc. We all know the rest of the story.
Now, as you note at the start of your article, the version rolled out in October 2013 was an utter disaster, and no one is denying that.
Furthermore, the administration did deserve plenty of blame, scorn and ridicule for the technical meltdown of HC.gov upon its launch...which it received from all quarters. No one is denying that either.
Finally, while there were a ton of screw-ups and plenty of blame to be spread around to various parties, yes, the fact that the website was originally designed to only handle a few states, not over 30 of them, very likely did contribute to the existing technical problems. Again, everyone knew that already. I fail to see why you feel this is worthy of writing a SHOCKING, BREAKING NEWS!!-style story about it now, nearly 2 years later.
This would be like me writing a shocking exposé about the "little-known" fact that (gasp!) the Bush administration lied about there being a connection between Sadaam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks...in 2015.
The thing is, Mr. Haskins, a website of the scope and complexity of HealthCare.Gov isn't created overnight, or even within a few months. It took several years to develop. And throughout that time period, the administration was hoping that more states would come around and set up their own websites/exchange platforms, as originally intended. Hell, the states had until as late as last fall to apply for federal funds to do so, fer heaven's sake...and in addition to the 15 states which did so in 2014, one more (Idaho) moved off of HC.gov for 2015, another (New Mexico) planned to do so for 2015 as well and a third (Arkansas) is still in the process of doing so starting in 2017.
Of course, New Mexico got cold feet, Oregon and Nevada ran into massive tech problems of their own and moved back home to the mothership, and Hawaii is following that path for 2016, so there you go.
In short, you've posted a lengthy, dramatic exposé of...absolutely nothing. Mazel Tov.