Rant: Health Care Snafu is Merely One of Obama’s Big PR Problems

That didn’t take long. Seemingly minutes after he won the shutdown stare-down, President Obama was back on defense, this time about the Murphy’s Law rollout of his Affordable Care Act (ACA) health exchanges.

To the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention in the Internet Age, the federal government egregiously flubbed the most basic part of the new health care system: signing up for it online. A few hiccups were to be expected; you can’t invite millions of people to visit your website on day one and expect everything to go seamlessly.

But I spent the first 10 years of my career covering Silicon Valley—witnessing many a balky product launch along the way—and this one was particularly bad. No one in the Valley has ever thought the federal government truly “gets” technology, and now it’s proving it in myriad ways. (Fortunately, the feds have called in engineers from Google to save the day, but that only makes us wonder why they didn’t enlist our best and brightest in the first place?)

Unlike some of the faux scandals and drummed-up nonsense that have dogged the President since his first inauguration day, this stumble has legs. Because on top of the sign-up snafu, it’s also become clear that one of Obama’s key talking points about ACA was either misleading or wrong.

“If you like your current health plan, you can keep it.” We heard candidate Obama utter that phrase dozens of times last year (and since his reelection). The administration’s defenders/apologists say this is technically true, but if ACA forces your insurer to alter or cancel your plan, then no, you don’t get to keep it. Thus has Obama added his own line to the grand American tradition of political dissembling that brought us, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” “Read my lips: No new taxes,” and “I am not a crook.”

And oh, by the way, your new plan probably will be more expensive. That you also should get more for your money is small consolation now and does nothing to extinguish the political firestorm.

When Obama first ran for president, he promised to have the most transparent administration in history. Instead, we’ve witnessed what might be the dodgiest, most obfuscating White House since Nixon’s. The most egregious examples of this are the ongoing NSA spying practices (whose technology is working just fine, thank you).

This, to me, is by far the most distressing thing this administration has done, because if our government is free to violate our privacy, to potentially silence our voice, individually or collectively, the rest of these debates—over health care or the deficit or economic policy—are meaningless.

The Google brainiacs (or someone) will fix the health care website. The ACA will launch, and maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. We can address it legislatively once the time comes. But we’re facing much more pressing, world-defining questions than affordable health care, or even the deficit, as we decide how we, as a country, would like to address the future. I’d still argue—vehemently—that President Obama is better than his predecessor was. But the gap is narrowing.

Rave: City Council Comes To Its Senses

I ranted about this last week, so it’s only fair I rave about it now. After some debate, the Denver City Council has modified a proposal that would’ve outlawed pot smoking on one’s own property. The new law also makes it OK to carry (but not smoke) the drug in city parks and on the 16thStreet Mall, and violations would be petty offenses punishable by a $100 fine and community service. In other words, it basically mimics the open container laws applied to public alcohol consumption, which is all marijuana legalization advocates wanted in the first place. It’s good to see common sense win out.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.