Over the last two weeks, the political theatre of the government shutdown stole headlines from what was really the main event: the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare.
Republicans, by forcing a government shutdown, gave great cover to President Barack Obama and his administration's complete mishandling of the Affordable Care Act's online debut.
Instead of trying to defund the healthcare law through debt negotiations – a strategy that had no chance of success – the GOP should've focused its attention on Obamacare's rollout to help solidify a fundamental point: The new law is a monumental screw-up that needs to be delayed if not repealed.
So far, the majority of potential health care customers who log on to healthcare.gov have been denied access because of technical failures. Of the few enrollees insurers have received, their applications have been plagued with inaccurate data, impeding the companies' ability to grant coverage.
Healthcare.gov was never beta-tested, and the nation's top health care official, Kathleen Sebelius, admitted to the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, that although the online insurance marketplace needed five years of construction and a year of testing, "We had two years and almost no testing."
Days before the site's launch, a simulation where a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously crashed the online marketplace, the Washington Post reported. Yet the government moved full speed ahead with its Oct. 1 start date.
The village idiot could've predicted failure.
For the first time yesterday, the president admitted to being "frustrated" by his health care opener, and pledged to resolve its problems. He was vague on the details – much like he's been throughout the rollout – declining to give specifics on the websites glitches and how exactly he plans to fix them.
The American public's trust is wearing thin. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday, the majority of Americans, 56 percent, believe the website's flaws reflect larger problems with the health care law. No-duh.
Two weeks ago, the president said his website's breakdowns were due to heavier than expected traffic – a quarter-truth at best. He also claimed that "more than half a million" people have successfully signed up, despite news reports suggesting insurers are receiving a slow trickle of applications riddled with administrative headaches that strain their ability to carry out the law.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield in Nebraska told the Wall Street Journal they had to halt their online health law claims because of data inaccuracies. That amounted to 50 potential enrollees as of Friday. Medical Mutual of Ohio said one of its customers had successfully signed up for three of its plans due to online deficiencies.
Healthcare.gov's malfunction is causing even Obamacare loyalists to worry about the potential of a so-called "death spiral" scenario. That is, if the government can't get its website up and running quickly enough, only the sickest people will continue to seek health care coverage, causing insurers to raise premiums on everyone, leading to higher drop-out rates and even higher health care costs.
Dependent on the bill's success is enrolling healthy 20-somethings who have grown up using Amazon.com and think cellphones are only used for text messaging. It's hard to imagine this demographic placing a call to buy something they don't think they need in the first place. As for the threat of a penalty if not insured, they'll reason, how can the government place a fine on something that can't be bought?
Republicans, having miscalculated the government shutdown, now need to sit back and let Obamacare play out. The legislation was poorly designed, implementation rushed and early warning signs of serious troubles ignored, leading to what can only be future implosions.
The best thing the GOP can do is take the year to thoroughly scrutinize the health care law and its implementation, which will reveal to the American public what it already knows: Obamacare is this nation's next crisis. It needs to be at best revised and delayed and at worst repealed and replaced.
- Read Jamie Stiehm: How the Government Shutdown Was Like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
- Read Robert Schlesinger: More Polls Show GOP Misreads Public on Obamacare
- Check out U.S. News Weekly, now availableon iPad