Spin won't do anymore for Obamacare

The president's health care plan looks like it's heading into a death spiral

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It was the most succinct -- and graphic -- analysis yet offered of the political implications of the Obamacare rollout.

"There's no way Democrats can spin this ----," said comedian Jon Stewart. That it was Mr. Stewart who said this is significant, because he has a big following among healthy young people, who must sign up for Obamacare in the millions to keep what so far has been mostly farce from becoming a fiasco.

And he was spot on. Most of the "mainstream" media have treated Democratic spin as news, and -- if it reflected poorly on the Obama administration -- played down or ignored genuine news.

The media shield has protected the president from failures in foreign policy, in which most Americans have little knowledge and less interest, and has limited blowback from scandals which most Americans don't think concern them.

But no amount of spin can cloak reality for Americans whose health insurance policy has been canceled, or whose premiums have doubled. Those who've spent hours fruitlessly trying to access Obamacare websites find it harder to believe the president is on top of things, his administration competent.

Obamacare screwups are too big, too obvious, too close to home for journalists to ignore. Despite the welcome distraction of the government "shutdown" -- whose mostly imaginary consequences could be blamed on Republicans -- more negative stories have been written and broadcast about the Obama administration in the last three weeks than ever before.

And now, with the "shutdown" over, Obamacare's botched rollout is the No. 1 story.

Most media attention has been directed at the "glitches" which cause Obamacare websites to crash under volumes of traffic many blogs handle with ease. They won't be fixed for months, IT experts say. If the sites aren't up and running by the middle of November, it'll be all but impossible to sign up enough people to keep Obamacare from going into a financial "death spiral." But IT problems are the least of Obamacare's troubles.

* The websites were deliberately designed backward, some suspect, to hide for as long as possible how much more people will have to pay for health insurance. There is no fix for sticker shock.

* Many who filled out application forms likely will learn the hard way that the websites have made them easy marks for identity thieves.

* Obamacare will exacerbate a massive shortage of primary care physicians, doctors predict. It will be especially difficult for Medicare patients to get timely treatment.

* If plaintiffs win any of four pending lawsuits, many of the Obamacare subsidies could be junked. Plaintiffs have the wording of the law on their side.

The administration needs 2.7 million healthy young people to sign up to subsidize those who are older and sicker. Because even "low information" voters blanch at the prospect of paying 9 percent to (in Vermont) 600 percent more for health insurance (pre-subsidy) -- especially when so few have jobs, so many have student loans to pay off -- I doubt that many would sign up under any circumstances. Website problems make it all but impossible.

"The healthy young man who sees an ad during a baseball game will not keep trying 25 times over a week if the site is not working," wrote health care expert Yuval Levin for National Review.

Most persistent will be those with health problems and no insurance. Insurance for a pool comprised chiefly of the sick and indigent would be prohibitively expensive. That's the "death spiral."

Obamacare has so many egregious, apparently insoluble problems some suspect it was designed to fail, to usher in a "single payer" system. I doubt a president with so much self-regard would deliberately subject himself to ridicule.

Since so many in the administration knew Obamacare wasn't ready for prime time, why didn't Mr. Obama accept the lifeline Republicans offered and delay implementation for a year?

The president's counterfactual insistence at his much-lampooned news conference/infomercial Monday that Obamacare has brought down health costs suggests his enormous self-regard has made him unwilling to acknowledge flaws in his "signature achievement."

Or maybe he's so partisan he couldn't bear to make a concession to the GOP.

It was a big mistake. The ugly reality of Obamacare is shattering Mr. Obama's carefully contrived image and clobbering his credibility. White House spin is now unconvincing even to former White House spinners.

It won't be long before Democrats regret they won the shutdown showdown and Republicans rejoice they didn't.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).


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