I had a conversation on Twitter yesterday with Think Progress’s managing editor, Igor Volsky, about Obamacare and the enrollment numbers that the Obama administration continues to withhold. In a snarky tweet, Volsky asked how knowing daily enrollment data would actually help fix the website. Of course it won’t do anything to fix the website, but that’s not the point. The administration has lied, side stepped questions and been maddeningly vague since HealthCare.gov went online October 1st. Their refusal to release the numbers is just another example of it.
Over the past couple of weeks, administration officials have given “updates” on Obamacare that have said almost nothing. Finally, Jeff Zients, who was recently brought in to clean up this mess, provided more info and a more exact time frame, but it has still been like pulling teeth to get any more info from them. Josh Barro summed this up well a bit ago:
The administration is still behaving like it is trying to get Obamacare enacted, and therefore its top public relations task is to bury negative stories about the law and emphasize the upside, like heavy consumer interest. But this is a mistake. Obamacare is already the law, and its long term political success is going to be determined by its substantive policy success — including whether consumers are able to sign up and get the health coverage they want.
This is exactly right.
It’s not surprising that the administration does not want to release the enrollment figures. I’m sure they aren’t pretty. But so what? How Obamacare is treated in the media right now really doesn’t matter. If the website eventually works and people sign up, all of these initial reports will be forgotten. If it fails, then the law fails and that’s what will be remembered.
More importantly though, Obama has a new trust deficit with the American people. He promised them that if they liked their health care plans, they could keep it. Well, that has been revealed to be a complete lie. Americans are rightfully angry at having been misled so brazenly. Obama needs to regain that trust.
Releasing daily enrollment figures won’t have a major effect on the American people, but it will help around the edges. The president should give a forthright press conference where he levels with the public, accepts blame for HealthCare.gov’s issues and tells everyone its exact status. He should release figures on who has enrolled in the private market versus new Medicare signups as well.
The numbers may not look good, but the vague language that the administration has used to describe the website’s status only feeds the perception that they are hiding something. Why be so secretive right now? There isn’t a good reason unless there is a serious, potentially fatal problem with the law. In addition, this information is going to come out eventually. It’s smarter to release the data now while the coverage of the law is universally negative than to do so later when the law is working better and these reports will crowd out positive stories. Negative articles aren’t going to actually impact whether the law succeeds or not. People are either going to sign up or they won’t. News coverage won’t change that.
Yesterday, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer seemed to back off the administration’s goal of signing up seven million people by March 31st. He instead said it was the CBO’s number and that the White House is trying to sign up as many people as possible. Yet again, the White House won’t give a straight answer. If they don’t think they’re going to hit their goal, say so. If they want to revise the number to shoot for something more achievable, just say it! Be honest! I repeat: unless the law has a major unknown problem, there is no reason to withhold this information. Releasing the figures and giving an honest update about the law will calm the furor over it and will help begin to repair the damage done by Obama’s lie. It’s extraordinarily frustrating that the White House refuses to do so.