First Thoughts: The White House’s one-month sprint


The White House’s one-month sprint to fix the Obamacare website… The finger pointing begins… Flashback to 2005: The Medicare Part D rollout was equally rocky… September jobs report: 148,000 jobs added, unemployment rate drops to 7.2%… Arkansas — a fascinating state to watch in 2014… De Blasio is leading NYC mayoral contest by 44 points (!!!)… And RIP, Lee Bandy.

By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Jessica Taylor

*** The White House’s one-month sprint: By now, we all know that the initial rollout of the federal Obamacare website has been a disaster. Here’s some of the rough coverage, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill: “The Health Site’s Chaotic Debut,” says a New York Times editorial; “In Obamacare speech, Obama makes a desperate sales pitch,” writes the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank;  and Jon Stewart dished more stinging jokes about the site. The real question, of course, is how long it will take to fix the problems. And here’s the answer: The Obama White House has about a month — so until Thanksgiving — to find a solution before the system is negatively impacted. Why Thanksgiving? Well, Dec. 15 is the last day people can enroll to have insurance start on Jan. 1, and the administration had always assumed that the young, healthy, uninsured Americans would begin purchasing insurance around Dec. 1. But if the site isn’t ready by then — or if the website is viewed as unworkable — then there are going to real concerns whether enough young people will sign up to make the system work. And then there will be talk about whether the enrollment period (through March 31) should be extended, or even whether the penalty should be delayed. So the sprint to fix the website is on, and the White House has about a month in which to do it.

*** Finger-pointing begins: When the going gets tough in Washington, folks start pointing fingers. “There were ample warning signs that the system was not working properly, according to people familiar with the project,” the Washington Post reports. “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency in charge of running the health insurance exchange in 36 states, invited about 10 insurers to give advice and help test the Web site. About a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems, according to an insurance IT executive who was close to the rollout.” So we’ve entered the deflect-and-blame period of the story.

*** Flashback to 2005 and the Medicare Part D rollout: But here’s an important reminder for everyone covering this story: We went through something similar to this just eight years ago with the implementation of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit back in 2005. As a Nov. 8, 2005 Washington Post article noted, “The rollout of the new Medicare drug benefit has been anything but smooth. At a news briefing yesterday, Mark B. McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, provided a how-to demonstration of the much-awaited Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder, which he said would be available on by 3 p.m. It wasn’t.” More from the story: “The original debut date was Oct. 13, but officials delayed it, citing the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Next it was promised on Oct. 17, but that day, too, came and went without personalized plan comparisons being available. Late in the month, McClellan told reporters that the feature definitely would be ready before Nov. 15, the date when seniors can begin signing up for the drug benefit.” And: “[T]he tool itself appeared to be in need of fixing yesterday. Visitors to the site could not access it for most of the first two hours. When it finally did come up around 5 p.m., it operated awfully slowly.” (Hat tip for this 2005 WaPo piece: Jack Hoadley from Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.) Of course, Obamacare is a MUCH bigger undertaking than the prescription-drug benefit, and it has become a MUCH bigger political hot potato.

*** September jobs report — 148,000 jobs added, unemployment rate drops to 7.2%: The numbers from the September jobs report, which was delayed due to the government shutdown: “U.S. employers added just 148,000 jobs in September, suggesting the job market was weakening before a 16-day partial government shutdown,” the AP says. “Still, the September gain was enough to lower the unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey. The Labor Department says the rate fell to 7.2.” A reminder, this data reflects the jobs environment BEFORE the government shutdown.

Read more: First Thoughts: The White House’s one-month sprint

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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