Amid complaints over the effectiveness and efficiency of HealthCare.gov, the website set up to enable Americans to avail themselves of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama on Monday shared his own frustrations with what he called glitches in the system. “Nobody's madder than me about the website not working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed,” he said.
No one, perhaps, except for the tens of millions of Americans without healthcare and the tens of thousands that have been stymied in efforts to enroll. Reportedly 500,000 applications have been initiated, although numbers about how many have enrolled aren't available.
It's not hard to find those who couldn't be happier with the digital logjam. Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell found the prospect of hiccups in the process absolutely delightful, tweeting Monday: “When a visit to #Obamacare website makes a trip to DMV seem pleasant, it's time for the President to consider delaying this rushed effort.”
“And what's with the food at the Senate cafeteria?,” he might've added. That's before getting to the even more bizarre conspiracy theories elsewhere on the right about the administration deliberately sabotaging its own system to ... well, no one really knows why it would do that, but when the president is the anti-Christ, a secret Muslim, socialist, fascist, anything is possible, one supposes.
McConnell's response is a demonstrative example, however, of the type of concern-trolling coming from the right, which has taken every opportunity to cheer on the failures of the system. The lag times in enrollment and the Kafkaesque digital labyrinths aren't bugs, they're features for critics of the law. See? This is what happens when you allow the government to try to help, they chuckle.
While there's certainly plenty of room for strong criticism of the administration's failures in setting up a workable exchange, something that “could inflict a greater toll on the Affordable Care Act than the law's opponents have,” The Times' editorial board wrote Sunday, none of this should be conflated with inherent flaws in the ideas behind the site itself.
McConnell and friends perhaps notwithstanding, no one would suggest that because the process of renewing one's driver's license is tiresome that the idea of driving a car is flawed. The crowing about the site's speed and confounding bugs aren't just schadenfreude over government bureaucratic ineptitude; to critics, they're real-world evidence that this law was never meant to be. Never mind that this line of thinking comes from people who did everything in their power — and things even outside of their power — to prevent its implementation in the first place; it's a judgment rendered about the right of the law to exist in the first place.
I'm certainly not inclined to give the Obama administration a pass for bungling the rollout of the site. But it's important to keep in mind that that's all we're talking about here, a website, one of four options for Americans looking to avail themselves of one of the most unprecedented undertakings in social policy in the country's history, and a much-needed one. (The uninsured can also apply by mail, by phone or in person).
Millions of uninsured Americans are being offered a chance to purchase affordable healthcare — and, among other amazingly revolutionary ideas, can no longer be denied insurance because of preexisting conditions — and people are complaining about the interface of a website? Talk about burying the lede. “Well, I was going to take advantage of the opportunity to get my family healthcare, but then I found out I'd have to screw around on a website for a slightly longer period of time than I do when impulse-purchasing a book on Amazon, so now I'm just going to skip the whole thing,” is not something anyone out there is thinking.
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The reaction to the delays brings to mind the old Louis C.K. bit about cellphones and airplanes. “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy,” he said of our reactions to our marvelous new developments.
Would you give it a second? We're all accustomed to getting everything we want instantly at the press of a button, but when it comes to something a lot more important than downloading an episode of “Breaking Bad” or buying a pair of sneakers on Zappos — healthcare peace of mind for you and your family -- it's going to take a little time to work out the kinks.
“It's time to stop rooting for failure,” Obama said from the Rose Garden on Monday. “Hardworking middle-class families are rooting for success.”
Luke O'Neil is a Boston-based writer and frequent contributor to the Boston Globe, Esquire and Slate. Follow him on Twitter: @lukeoneil47