Beware the Obamacare concern trolls

Ezra Klein

While it was a coincidence that the Obamacare insurance exchange website launched on October 1, the same day the partial federal government shutdown began, there have been few coincidences since. It is thus no twist of fate that many prominent liberals seem to be worried that the GOP is wasting an opportunity to criticize the failure of the exchange roll-out. This is concern trolling at its transparent worst.

The most blatant example comes from a usual source of concern trolling, Ezra Klein at the Washington Post. In a “Wonkblog” piece titled “Five thoughts on the Obamacare disaster” (bait deployed), the first three of those “thoughts” are overt criticisms of the law and its implementation so far (bait taken). Then Klein gets to the GOP’s “missed opportunity” (reeling in):

Their decision to shut down the government on the exact day the health-care law launched was a miracle for the White House. If Republicans had simply passed a clean-CR on Oct. 1 these last few weeks would’ve been nothing — nothing at all — save for coverage of the health-care law’s disaster. Instead the law has been knocked off the front page by coverage of the Republican Party’s disaster.

Oh, that’s so nice of Ezra, to look out for the GOP. He couldn’t possibly have ulterior motives as a front line champion of the President and his signature policy.  And in case you doubt him, his final “thought” is that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But of course! But make no mistake, this is prima facie strategic trickery, but the rope-a-dope won’t come until 2014 gets closer.

The Obamacare exchanges opened on October 1 for sign-up and enrollment, but the coverage doesn’t actually begin until January 1, 2014. That gives HHS and their website contractor three months to make them work. And let’s face it, as incompetent as they have been shown to be so far, they will probably get it done. So when healthcare.gov finally does start working and people start to enroll at the expected numbers, especially as the December 15 enrollment deadline approaches, the Kleins of the pundit world get to come back and say “See! Obamacare does work! Republicans were wrong to criticize it! It just needed time to work! And look, the administration just happened to have given it just the right amount of time to get the kinks worked out before it really started!”

The really sad thing is that the very first of Klein’s five “thoughts” gives away the game.

As Sarah Kliff noted, Medicare Part D was, at this point in its launch, also considered a disaster.”When online shopping for prescription drug programs launched back in 2005, things went so badly that the federal government didn’t even get off the ground until three weeks after its scheduled launch.” Today, Medicare Part D is broadly considered a success.

And so will it be with Obamacare (according to its defenders like Klein, obviously).

But this strategy only works if Republicans fall for it and focus on Obamacare’s technical issues (massive and system-wide as they are), which are almost certainly to be repaired. There are much more fundamental flaws in the law and its implementation. It would be both shortsighted and self-defeating for Republicans to treat these glitches as what is wrong with the law. They are an obvious target, but there are thousands of other targets on the trees in the rest of the forest too. We shouldn’t let concern trolls aim our attacks on the least dangerous ones.


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