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Will It Be Enough?

[ Posted Thursday, November 14th, 2013 – 17:13 PST ]

President Obama held a rather extraordinary press conference today, to defend his embattled Obamacare website rollout and announce an administrative fix to the larger Obamacare program of people who have had their insurance cancelled. The big unanswered question after the presser was done: will it be enough?

Obama was as chastened as he's ever been in one of these meet-the-press events. Because it is football season, he deployed on multiple occasions a seasonal sports metaphor, saying "I fumbled the ball." This will, no doubt, be the lead soundbite from the press conference as well as the lead headline in tomorrow's papers. "Fumbled" will be added to "evolved" in the Barack Obama historical political lexicon from this point on, one assumes.

But, as I said, the key questions will all begin with the same phrase. Let's examine a few of these "Will Obama's press conference be enough..." questions.

Will it be enough to make Republicans love Obama and work constructively with him from now on?

Well, no. No, it will not.

Will it be enough to stop the relentless Obamacare criticism?

No, it will not do that, either. More on this at the end.

Will it be enough to stop the insurance cancellations?

Probably not. Or, more accurately, "not all of them." It may help a certain portion of those who have gotten cancellation notices in the mail, but how big a portion that actually is remains to be seen. It will be dependent on the goodwill of both state insurance commissioners as well as the insurance companies themselves. So, even a best-case scenario has to be "it will stop some cancellations, but it will almost assuredly not stop all of them." One would think that if this proportion is high enough, people will credit Obama with helping most people affected, but this would be wrong. He has no benefit of the doubt, currently. Therefore, even if it helped 98 percent of the people with cancellation notices, Obama will not get much credit for this. Think about it -- the whole cancellation scandal is only happening to five percent of the population now, and how loud is the noise? If even one person still winds up cancelled, the media will focus on them, not the others positively affected by the change.

Will it be enough to redirect the public's rage to the insurers themselves?

Or, more broadly, "the state insurance commissioners and the insurers?" Well, possibly to some degree, but probably not completely. As in the answer above, we will still see people interviewed on the news who now not only got a cancellation letter after being promised by Obama it would not happen, but they'll now also not be able to get their policy reinstated after Obama promising them a second time. In other words, the policy has a large degree of risk that it'll backfire on Obama, if even one disgruntled consumer still exists. It's quite likely that more than one will exist, and the media will diligently sniff these people out and put them on the air.

Will it be enough to calm Democrats' fears?

Maybe. That should really be "Democratic officeholders in the House and Senate" -- the ones who are nervously contemplating breaking politically with Obama right now. All of the House is up for re-election next year, as is one-third of the Senate. Republicans have already telegraphed quite loudly that they're going to make Obamacare rage the central part of their 2014 campaign (see: Virginia's governor's race and the analysis afterwards on the Right). Vulnerable Democrats are already contemplating passing bills which go further than what Obama announced today in terms of guaranteeing continued coverage for all. But these votes are fast approaching, meaning there will be little time to gauge Obama's new plan's effectiveness before Democrats have to vote on an alternate plan. So while Obama's action today may help to stem the tide, it likely won't stop it entirely -- at least, not before some votes are held.

Will it be enough to stop these bills?

Again, a qualified maybe. What some are predicting now is that a bill written by a Republican will pass in the House and a bill written by a Democrat will pass in the Senate. Knowing how tough it is these days to get the two houses to conference and agree on anything (see: budget, immigration), this will likely mean the legislation will be delayed long enough to see whether the president's fix is working or not. If it is seen as a failure, then there likely will be a bill placed on Obama's desk of some sort. If it seems to be working, then it will be an excuse to stall the two bills into just being a political exercise (to be used as fodder in the upcoming campaign). It's impossible to tell which way it'll go, at this point. The deadline will likely be (roughly) mid-December -- if no compromise bill has passed by then (or at least been generally agreed to by both sides) then that will likely be the end of it.

Will it be enough to stop Obama's slide in job approval polling?

It is too early to tell. Or, if you consider that too much of a cop-out, then how about "not yet." No matter how well Obama's new plan works, there's a certain amount of political damage that's already been done. Obamacare jokes are the go-to openers for the late-night comedians, and they have been for over a month now. That is not where any politician wants to be with the American public. Obama's job approval was low before the Obamacare website's disastrous rollout, and it has gone from bad to worse. Turning that around is not going to happen until the website reliably works and until the White House can point to millions of people who have successfully signed up. The numbers for November aren't going to be available until mid-December, and they'll likely be as disappointing as the October numbers were. It won't be until mid-January that solid numbers (from the anticipated December spike) will be available. Meaning Obama's poll numbers can be expected to remain very low for at least the next couple of weeks, at minimum.

Will it be enough to refocus the attention to other facets of Obamacare?

Possibly, but this is a two-edged sword. This is the real underlying question, when you consider the crass politics of the situation, which is why we saved it for the end. Assuming for the sake of argument that Obama's fix works well enough, and also assuming that the website reaches a minimal level of reliability and functionality on schedule (these are two very large assumptions, obviously) then this could refocus attention to other parts of Obamacare.

The double-edged sword part of that is that "refocus attention" is neither positive nor negative, it is neutral. To Obamacare critics, this will translate into "ignore the problem that got fixed, here are a whole bunch of other complaints," which would obviously be a bad thing politically for Obama. For Obamacare defenders, they may have a semi-successful fix to point to, as well as (keeping our stated assumptions) the fact that the program is finally up and running more or less as designed. This means refocusing the attention on the successes of Obamacare -- which as can easily be seen is going to be a tough sell after the past two months. As previously mentioned, hard numbers showing millions successfully signed up likely won't appear before (at minimum) mid-January. And Obamacare supporters, from Obama on down, are already forced into a defensive position so switching to offense is going to be tough -- especially considering the fact that Obamacare critics will be bringing up fresh horror stories to trot out in the media, which will also need defending against.

To sum up: one press conference isn't going to be a game-changer for the public's opinion about Obamacare. If this sounds too pessimistic, well, patience is necessary. Over the long haul, Obamacare may indeed be a success and enjoy rising popularity with the American public. But that's over the long haul, and won't even be seen until early next year. It won't be seen until millions of Americans have not only gone through the process successfully but are now enjoying doctor visits and the peace of mind that comes from having quality insurance. Which is going to take a lot longer than the political reaction to one press conference.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

11 Comments on “Will It Be Enough?”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    [OK, apologies if this doesn't work, but I seem to remember it working before...]

    Because I'm a sucker for sentimentality, here is the newest addition to Michale's family:

    Congratulations!

    :-)

    -CW

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Woo hoo! It worked!

    :-)

    -CW

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Thanx CW... :D

    I am driving my daughter crazy by always referring to the little tyke as "Michale"... It's just has a nice ring, rolling off the tongue sound..

    MMMmiiiiiiiiiccchhhhaaaaalllllleeeeee

    :D

    Although, since I am a big HIGHLANDER fan, Conner does have it's appeal as well.. :D

    Anyways, thanks again to you and to all of the well-wishers.. :D I am always said and it's still true, when the chips are down, Weigantians are the greatest people on the planet, politics be damned...

    Michale

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Having exposed my bleeding heart for all to see, back to the subject at hand..

    I was very interested in your last segment regarding the refocus and I have a feeling that THAT is going to be Obama's biggest problem.

    But first, let me address the will it help question.

    No, it will not help. Because all Obama did was break the law.. As he is wont to do, Obama simply told insurance companies that they won't be arrested (so to speak) if they continue to offer the policies that people were happy with, even if they don't measure up to obamacare quality.

    Do you see and understand the mess Obama has created??

    The millions of Americans who lost their insurance will want those policies back. And there is absolutely NO REASON why the insurance companies can raise the rates on those policies..

    But the key is that those policies were eliminated by obamacare because they didn't bring in enough revenue.

    NOT because they were substandard. Because they were cheap plans.. And the insurance companies are going to lose boo-koo bucks if they continue offering the cheap plans..

    Another facet of the mess Obama has created is that he has created 2 classes of Americans. Those who have the adequate cheaper plans and those who are forced to take the more expensive Chock Full Of Nothing They Need obamacare plans..

    This will create real problems and headaches for the insurance companies who will simply point the finger at Obama and the Democrats and say, "Blame Them!!"

    And, at the polls, the American voters will do exactly that..

    Finally, let's look at the refocus... You postulated that it might be a positive refocus or a negative..

    Give the history, it's likely to be negative..

    When obamacare first rolled out, the problem was the website. The problem IS still the website, but a new focus have been the cancellations.. It's likely that a new focus will emerge will ALSO be negative, given the downward trend and the momentum it has to date...

    To sum it, things are going to get much MUCH worse for Obama and the Democrats before it gets better..

    And, like CW's prediction of the next big spike, you read it here first..

    Michale

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:
  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Nice looking baby! Good start on the hair.

    Cheers!

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    Nice looking baby! Good start on the hair.

    :D

    Thanx. Gods help the poor kid if he has my hairline.. :D or lack thereof...

    Michale

  8. [8] 
    Paula wrote:

    "NOT because they were substandard. Because they were cheap plans.. And the insurance companies are going to lose boo-koo bucks if they continue offering the cheap plans.."

    Wrong. They were substandard. And some of them were created after ACA passed with the intention of being cancelled.

    You assert that Obama "broke the law". How did he do that? You assert that plans were "adequate but cheaper". The reality is that they were the best people could afford and were likely to really screw them over if they actually got seriously ill.

    You are defending the previous system wherein Insurance Companies had absolutely no pushback and were able to screw people over with total impunity. Keep in mind that people had no alternatives to this system -- people were literally held captive. They had to pay, often quite a bit, for very dodgy coverage, or they were refused coverage entirely due to pre-existing conditions.

    The mistake Obama and Dems made was in believing (apparently) that if he kept the Public Option out of the mix, the insurance companies would not continue to be the stunningly despicable operators they had gotten away with being before the ACA. But many simply turned around and started producing policies they had every intention of canceling, and some went on to actually, actively, deliberately misinform policyholders by either automatically pushing them into higher cost policies and implying they had no other choices, and/or by canceling them and claiming mean ol' Obamacare was canceling them for no good reason and not because they were crap.

    You have a new grandchild. Do you think the repubs that are busily trying to destroy the protections the ACA mandates give a shit about your grandchild? If that child gets hurt or is seriously ill, would your sanctimonious repubs give a damn if your daughter was financially ruined? Or was unable to afford care that was needed? Do you think the insurance companies care? Unless forced, they would happily take your daughter's money and stop paying for care the second she met a limit. They did that over and over to people.

    Every time you applaud the problems with the website or the law you are applauding a system that was sociopathic and merciless. Your leaders have no credible alternative to offer; they are all rich and none of them are at risk if they were to succeed in overturning the law. They and their families will be fine. But yours?

  9. [9] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    Chris a very good read,but I must be the only person in the U.S.A tired of the Obamacare roll out media freak out.There are so many other fish to fry,it seems as if there is only one agenda for the MSM,divert the attention of the mob from all other ills we suffer from as a society;income disparity,bringing the banksters to heel,campaign finance reform etc.

    On a personal note,despite my revolutionary fervor,I too like cute baby pictures and hope that the addition to Michale's family grows into a better World than it is now.

  10. [10] 
    Paula wrote:

    Chris: per TPM: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/here-s-how-much-healthcare-gov-has-improved -- includes this:

    "Officials are also expecting traffic to spike at the end of the month and onward. So this weekend, the administration is adding more servers and data storage to help handle any additional load."

    So it does look like they're cognizant of the possibility of traffic surges overloading servers...

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    Wrong. They were substandard.

    But Americans liked them... The plans fit their needs and their budgets...

    You assert that Obama "broke the law". How did he do that?

    Uh... By saying that Insurance Companies could offer the cheaper plans that violated obamacare without penalty..

    Basically, it's the Dream Act all over again..

    Your leaders have no credible alternative to offer; they are all rich and none of them are at risk if they were to succeed in overturning the law. They and their families will be fine.

    For the record, they aren't "my leaders"..

    I have no leaders, as I don't buy into the idea that ANY political critter, Repub OR Dem, has an ounce of integrity or care one iota about me and my family...

    That's where we are different, Paula.

    You actually think that YOUR leaders (Obama and the Democrats) care about you and your family...

    They don't.. They care only about their own, just as you accuse Republicans...

    So it does look like they're cognizant of the possibility of traffic surges overloading servers...

    Want to lay down bets as to whether or not it will do any good??

    The CODE is the problem...

    You can have 20,000 servers but if they are all running bad code, then it will simply make matters worse, rather than better...

    obamacare pukes at 20K-30K users, even though the code needs to handle twice that...

    You watch.. The first week or two of Dec is going to make the first week or two of October look like a picnic by comparison...

    Amer,

    On a personal note,despite my revolutionary fervor,I too like cute baby pictures and hope that the addition to Michale's family grows into a better World than it is now.

    Amem to that..

    My only beef is that ya'all think that Democrats are the ones to bring about that "better world"...

    Despite ALL the evidence to the contrary...

    Michale

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