If the problems now plaguing the system are not resolved by mid-November and the flow of enrollments at that point looks like it does now, the prospects for the first year of the exchanges will be in very grave jeopardy. Some large advertising and outreach campaigns are also geared to that crucial six-week period around Thanksgiving and Christmas, so if the sites are not functional, all of that might not happen—or else might be wasted. If that’s what the late fall looks like, the administration might need to consider what one of the people I spoke with described as “unthinkable options” regarding the first year of the exchanges.From the standpoint of the people working on the fixes, Levin says, it's a category five nightmare.
The nightmare scenarios, the “unthinkable options,” involve larger moves ... like putting enrollment on hold or re-starting the exchange system from scratch at some point. No one seems to know how this could work or what it would mean, but everyone involved is contending with a far worse set of circumstances than they were prepared for. This is a major disaster from their point of view, not a set of glitches, and they simply do not know how long it will take to fix. They dearly want to see progress day by day, but they are generally not seeing it.
The technical problems with the website are surely indicative of incompetence, sloppy planning, and the inability of government bureaucracies to do things well, but that's not the most important thing to keep in mind. Levin closes with what is the more important point:
For me, and for other critics of Obamacare, the problem with the law was never about these technical matters. I didn’t think the system wouldn’t work because the government couldn’t build a website, but because the basic health economics involved is deeply misguided and would take the (badly inadequate) American health-financing system in the wrong direction.Speaking of category five nightmares, it might be recalled how badly the press and congressional Democrats mauled George Bush for the delay in getting aid to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a delay that wasn't really his fault. He was scorned and ridiculed by all and sundry on the left for his alleged incompetence. It'll be interesting to see if similar treatment is meted out to President Obama for the way this rollout has been handled. More likely the media, or perhaps Mr. Obama himself, will find a way to blame the failure on Bush or maybe even Ted Cruz.
So these problems only seem like a prelude to other, larger problems. But Obamacare was also always going to be a test of the sheer capacity of the administrative state to actually do what it claims the authority and ability to do. At this point, it looks as though we may be witnessing a failure of the administrative state on a level unimagined even by its staunchest critics. We may be. But we’ll have to see.