How Democrats Could Kill Obamacare
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The Fiscal Times
November 14, 2013

The enrollment figures for Obamacare released Wednesday provided yet another major disappointment for an administration battling on several fronts to preserve the program. 

More than 846,000 people completed applications, but only 106,000 people chose a plan. Of those, just 26,704 enrolled through the technically challenged Healthcare.gov website.

Related: No Hope Left for Obamacare’s Website, Techies Say

Despite the positive spin by the administration, enrollment on the federal exchange fell far short of even modest early estimates.  With this less than stellar first month accounting, President Obama faces a host of challenges. Still unanswered is whether the technical glitches can be fixed by the end of the month as the president has promised, a task tech experts inside and outside of the administration say is nearly impossible.

There are also concerns about whether the program can attract the right mix of young, healthy applicants to ensure a financially viable insurance pool.  The White House needs to convince 7 million people to sign up for coverage in order for Obamacare to work as intended, according to the Congressional Budget Office,

His most pressing task, however, might be convincing Democrats that Obamacare can be salvaged. Millions of voters have lost their insurance, and millions more are expected to lose it in the coming months and years, according to a McClatchy report. They’re letting their displeasure with the law be known, sending shivers up the spines of vulnerable Democratic lawmakers.

For instance, after a million Californians lost their insurance this week, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) announced her support for a bill introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu that would allow consumers to keep their plans for another year. Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) also support the bill.

"This bill provides a simple fix to a complex problem,” Feinstein said Tuesday, adding that it was "commonsense" and should be passed quickly.

Hagan, Landrieu and Pryor are all facing tough reelection bids next year. But Feinstein and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) are not; they simply think taking away people’s health insurance and not fulfilling a promise is bad policy.

Related: Why Divorce Attorneys Will Love Obamacare

Obama and his lieutenants are trying to quell revolts in the party. Administration officials met with House Democrats Wednesday, and the Senate’s entire Democratic caucus is set to meet with Obama at the White House today. Meanwhile, within the White House and the Republican Party, battle lines are firmly drawn. Here’s where we stand the morning after the first peek behind the enrollment curtain:

  • The White House continues to insist that the web site will be fixed by the end of November and that it’s on track to reach its March enrollment target. It would likely require a full-scale mutiny from Democrats on the Hill to get them to agree to push back the individual mandate. HHS chief Kathy Sebelius sounded somewhat confident now that the first numbers were released. 

“The marketplace is working; people are enrolling,” Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on a call announcing enrollment figures. “The promise of affordable health-care coverage is increasingly becoming a reality to more and more Americans.”

  • Republicans failed to defund the law, exposing deep rifts and fundamental problems within the party in the process. Now, they’re seeing the rollout lurch from one disaster to the next.  

One Republican strategy to derail the law’s rollout has been particularly effective. States like Oregon and California that accepted federal money to build their own exchanges were successful: some 75 percent of those who picked a plan came from these states.

But Obamacare was a disaster in the states where Republicans refused to accept federal funds to build exchanges, leaving the task up to the federal government. These exchanges failed and low enrollment followed.

  • Democratic leader Harry Reid has strongly backed the bill, saying he was “very confident” that difficulties would be ironed out. But there is growing tension over the failed rollout, over people losing their insurance and over the White House’s flatfooted response to all of it. Even Bill Clinton called for Obama to allow people to keep their existing plans, as the president promised.

On Wednesday, some House Democrats said the White House had to have a fix for those who lost their insurance by Friday or they would back a Republican solution by Fred Upton to allow people to keep their old insurance plans. Support for Landrieu’s bill is likely to grow if this fix isn’t satisfactory.

The one sure thing that could swing a broad Democratic mutiny against Obamacare is the continued unpopularity of the law. Many lawmakers are in the same boat as Hagan, Landrieu and Pryor. The last thing they want hanging over their heads during a campaign is support for a failed, unpopular law. Making them choose between their job and Obamacare is not a decision the president wants them to make.

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An editor-at-large for The Fiscal Times, David Francis has reported from all over the world on issues that range from defense to border security to transatlantic relations.