Peter Suderman reacts to Sen. Max Baucus’s latest complaint about the implementation of Obamacare:
If there’s any one legislator who can legitimately claim to be the law’s author, it’s Baucus. So it’s worth paying attention when Baucus says that he thinks the process of setting up the law’s health insurance exchanges is marching towards catastrophe.
There’s no question that Obamacare faces difficulties. It’s an imperfect law with a lot of moving parts, and it’s also facing tremendous resistance from Republicans around the country, who are doing everything they can to delay, defund, and just generally sabotage it. Put those two things together and smooth sailing was never in the cards.
But “catastrophe” is stretching things a bit. Baucus is, and has been, concerned about the implementation of Obamacare for some time. Yesterday, at a Senate hearing, he confronted HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius with his concerns, but this is really nothing new. Oversight is his job, and Baucus is worried that people don’t yet understand the law well and are going to be confused once the exchanges open up:
Ms. Sebelius replied that the department takes its outreach and education efforts “very, very seriously” and was currently recruiting consumer “navigators” to help with enrollment, but that it is hamstrung in part because it did not get additional resources for those efforts in the 2013 continuing resolution to fund the government.
“Having said that, we have engaged in efforts with the Small Business Administration, which is doing regular meetings around the country with our regional personnel, and we just released a request for proposals for on-the-ground navigators, individuals who come out of the faith community, the business community, the patient community, the hospital community who will be available to answer questions,” she said. “We also understand that people have a lot of questions and are deploying as many resources as we can to answer those questions and get folks ready to engage in open enrollment on Oct. 1.”
….Ms. Sebelius replied several times that officials were “definitely on track to implement the law as it is anticipated and have open enrollment start in every state in the country on Oct. 1st.”
I don’t expect the implementation of Obamacare to go smoothly. It’s big, it’s complex, it’s underfunded, and Republicans desperately want it to fail. This makes problems inevitable. Nevertheless, pouncing on every reported hitch as a harbinger of doom is taking schadenfreude too far. HHS has consistently claimed that they’ll be ready to go by October 1. Maybe that’s overoptimistic. But although it will probably take several years for Obamacare’s uptake rate to reach its goal, I’ll bet that by this time next year it will be up and running and basically doing its job. It’s a little early to be writing its obituary.