No Need to Freak Out, Elections Are Still a Year Away

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 12:15 PM EST

Dave Weigel thinks stories about Democrats freaking out over Obamacare are overstated:

You can find anonymous Democrats to panic about anything, and you can find plenty of Democrats willing to trash implementation so far, on the record. But recently, when I was talking to one of the Democrats assigned to win House seats in 2014, I got the impression that the panic is tied largely to the crisis of healthcare.gov. If the website sucked wind through Thanksgiving, said the Democrat, it was dreadful but, for Democrats, survivable. If it failed into 2014? That would blow open doors for Republican-led delay bills, and the party's vulnerable members would start to endorse those bills, because what choice would they have?

Day to day, it's very easy to write a "collapse of liberalism" story. Talk to Democrats, though, and you learn that to a staggering degree they think a fixed website would end the general crisis. One month of increased signups—that's all they want. Ask them how they feel in mid-December.

I agree on all points. The Obamacare rollout has unarguably been a fiasco, but memories are short, both on Capitol Hill and in the country at large. Fix things fairly soon and it will be a non-issue in next year's election.1 And it really is all about the website. That's a problem. By contrast, it's still not clear just how big a problem rate shock is. There's no question that it's hit a fair number of people, and as with any bell curve, there's no question that there are a few people on the right tail who are getting hit badly. But in the absence of hard data, my growing sense is that the number of people with a serious case of rate shock is fairly modest. It's not a nothingburger, but it doesn't feel like a political catastrophe either. Jon Cohn provides some details here.

(As a reader reminded me this weekend, network shock might actually be a bigger issue. It's one thing to get a rate increase. That's bad, but it's often tolerable, and everyone in the individual market is pretty used to big annual premium increases anyway. But a lot of plans on the exchange restrict doctor networks fairly severely, and this could be a big problem for people who are loyal to their current physicians. On the other hand, rate shock is mostly a problem for people who make too much money to qualify for subsidies, and they can always buy outside the exchanges. So even here, it's unclear just how many people are really affected.)

All that said, I'm a little surprised at how little concrete data we have on a lot of this stuff. After a month and a half, we're still mostly just trading and debunking anecdotes.

NOTE: Image above courtesy of MoJo senior editor Dave Gilson. I couldn't not use it, could I?

1Especially if Republicans decide to hijack the news cycle in January with some more insane budget demands. Given their almost comical lack of party discipline in this area, I'd say this is a good bet.