Question and Answer

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on March 10, 2014

The following is an excerpt from’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

image1341Question and Answer

  • “Are Robots About to Take Our Jobs?”–headline, National Journal, March 8 issue
  • “Robots Have Mastered News Writing. Goodbye Journalism”–headline,, March 6

Empty Souk
ObamaCare is now in the sixth and final month of its extended inaugural open-enrollment period. If you want to buy medical insurance through the exchange–a big if, we realize–you have until the end of the month to do it, or wait till autumn to buy a policy for next year.

This column has analyzed the disaster of ObamaCare in terms of three phases. Phase 1, the technical failure, was evident as soon as open enrollment began on Oct. 1 and many of the exchange websites proved to have been incompetently designed. Technical problems continue to emerge, including, as noted here last week, the Internal Revenue Service’s tardiness in preparing the final instructions for Form 8960, which taxpayers must file if they owe the new ObamaCare “net investment income tax.”

Phase 2 is the revelation that ObamaCare’s central promise–“if you like your plan, you can keep your plan”–was fraudulent. In an effort to appease defrauded consumers, the Obama administration has announced a series of unlegislated exceptions to the law, which the president himself attempted to explain the other day. [President Obama said]:

“There are some people who have very bad insurance, but they don’t know it because they don’t understand the fine print,” Obama said yesterday. Politico Pro reports that the President continued:

“We said, ‘You know what, you’re right. You should be able to keep the health insurance you have even if it’s not very good. Even if you could get insurance on, you should be able to keep it.’ And that’s the part of the law we’ve extended.”

We know what’s good for you and we aim to please! If this seems incoherent, it’s because the real logic is political, as we noted Tuesday. Administration officials hope to minimize the number of voters adversely affected by ObamaCare before this year’s election and thereby help vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents. Even the New York Times acknowledges as much in an editorial today:

Ideally, President Obama would not have extended the period for retaining the less-comprehensive policies, but in the current political environment, he opted to take a step to protect health care reform against a Republican takeover in the Senate.

It isn’t often that this column agrees with the Times editorialists, but of course our concord here is only analytical. The Times approves of ObamaCare, and it also approves of delaying enforcement of ObamaCare as a political expedient for Democrats. Obama can’t directly admit to the latter, and it’s a bit surprising that the Times did so.

The third phase of failure is the slow revelation that the basic economic assumptions behind ObamaCare are wrong. A new survey from McKinsey & Co., conducted in February, found that only 10% of those who lacked insurance pre-ObamaCare had signed up for an exchange plan, and that of those who had signed up, just 27% were previously uninsured.

True, those numbers were up significantly from January’s figures, 3% and 11% respectively. Still, they’re low enough that the Washington Post sums it up: “The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal.”

The Post, which also reports on an Urban Institute study, offers this disclaimer:

The surveys are not a perfect way of showing what is happening in the insurance exchanges. But they begin to fill in blanks that both advocates and opponents of the 2010 health-care law agree are critical to understand. . . .

With just over three weeks remaining in a six-month sign-up period, the question of how many uninsured people are gaining coverage is eluding both Obama administration officials and most of the private health plans being sold through the new marketplaces.

National Journal’s Sam Baker, reporting on a talk by Health and Human Services official Gary Cohen, explains why such crucial information is “eluding” the administration:

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the health care law will reduce the number of uninsured people by about 24 million over the next few years, and that about 6 million previously uninsured people will gain coverage through the law’s exchanges this year. So, is enrollment on track to meet that goal? Overall enrollment is looking pretty decent, but how many of the people who have signed up were previously uninsured?

“That’s not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way,” Cohen told the insurance-industry crowd on Thursday when asked how many of the roughly 4 million enrollees were previously uninsured.

In other words, the administration isn’t bothering to put the assumptions behind its purported grand accomplishment to a rigorous empirical test. Subscribers to the evil-genius theory of Obama will claim this is by design, but it looks to us more like hubris.

A new Gallup poll, meanwhile, finds that 23% of respondents say ObamaCare has hurt them, compared with only 10% who say it’s helped them. A large majority, 63%, say it’s had no effect. To some extent these numbers likely reflect partisan bias, as the split for Democrats (17% helped, 7% hurt) is quite different from that for Republicans (3% helped, 39% hurt)–though it also seems probable, given demographic differences between the parties, that ObamaCare has helped Democrats more than Republicans and hurt Republicans more than Democrats. As for independents, the figures were close to the average: 10% said it’s helped, 25% said it’s hurt.

The lack of comprehensive, objective data on ObamaCare’s effects makes it possible even at this late date for Obama to make pronouncements like this one, reported by the Washington Free Beacon:

Speaking before a crowd at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., the President encouraged attendees to sign up, telling them, “I am absolutely confident that you will see millions of people benefitting from this law.”

“It is working the way it should,” President Obama bragged about Obamacare.

But if it were really working the way it should, senators who voted for it wouldn’t be running away from it, and the administration wouldn’t be forced to choose between enforcing its provisions and protecting the Democratic majority.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”