The Obama administration doesn’t want to talk about Obamacare. At a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dodged questions about the ongoing failure of the law’s federally-run health insurance portal, Healthcare.gov, which after two weeks is still practically impenetrable to all but the most dedicated users.
Carney refused to say when the exchange might be working, and directed reporters’ questions to the agencies in charge of the project. “Those are all questions for HHS and CMS,” he said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
But the head of HHS isn’t saying much. Following a disastrous interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has avoided most media inquiries. The head of CMS, Marylyn Tavenner, is staying mum too. She refused to answer questions New York Times reporters posed about the performance of the exchanges.
That’s hardly a shock. What could either of them say? The federal exchange system simply does not work. And the administration has run out of excuses. Even President Obama—who initially excused the exchange problems as being typical of a large technology rollout—has begun to talk more frankly about the system’s flaws. “The website that was supposed to do this all in a seamless way has had way more glitches than I think are acceptable,” he said on Tuesday.
It is clear now that, despite occasional suggestions of light at the end of the tunnel, the administration does not know how long the exchange problems will take to fix. At this point, then, it is necessary to at least consider the possibility that the federal exchanges, and perhaps a few of the state-run counterparts as well, are simply not going to work, at least not in the relatively short time the administration has to get the system on track.
Given how little information is available to outsiders, it’s hard to judge with great certainty. It is of course possible that the problems could be resolved in a few days or a few weeks. But the administration’s obfuscations, as well the repeated assurances both before and after the opening of the exchanges that they had everything under control, don’t inspire confidence that meaningful fixes are on the way. Already there are signals that the exchange problems could be deep and long-lasting.