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Obamacare's worst problem may be yet to come

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Congress,Columnists,Shikha Dalmia,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Tea Party,Jon Stewart,Health Care,2014 Elections,Ted Cruz,Analysis

By all accounts, the roll out of Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges has been a fiasco of epic proportions. But diehard supporters claim that this is a minor roadblock that won’t affect the law’s long-term future.

“Obamacare is here,” lectured liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “Get used to it.” Robinson might be right.

Then again, when funnyman Jon Stewart echoes Tea Party “wackos” to demand a one-year delay of the individual mandate, the lynchpin of the edifice, you know all is not well.

The reality is that the way President Obama ramrodded this law through Congress has left him very little margin for error. The next couple of months will make or break the program.

Ten days into the launch, legions of consumers still can’t log into the federal exchange website, let alone compare plans, apply for the promised subsidies and buy coverage.

The site -- whose staggering $634 million construction cost exceeds that of LinkedIn and Spotify combined -- has already been shut down once for repairs, but the problems persist.

Thing are so bad that the administration won’t even reveal basic information about enrollment rates that many suspect are in the single digits.

Nor will it make its IT folks available to explain the technical glitches, insisting that “pent-up demand” is overwhelming capacity.

But experts whom Reuters consulted believe that the architecture of the websites is fundamentally flawed and needs to be radically overhauled.

For example, when individuals “apply” for coverage, the website automatically opens more 90 separate files and plugins to stream information from the user’s computer. The flood of traffic paralyzes the connection.

None of this is unexpected. In fact, insurance companies now say they’d been warning the administration for months that the exchange was not ready for prime time.

But the same reason the administration rushed to launch is also why it can’t afford any extended delays now.

The law requires every American to have coverage by sometime early next year, although the administration keeps changing its mind about the precise date.

But failure to have coverage by whatever date it eventually decides would result in a $96 fine for individuals and $285 for families.

But extracting fines without giving people viable purchase options will generate even more outrage against a law that a majority of Americans already dislike.

Postponing the individual mandate is not an option, either, even though that would be the right thing to do given that the administration has delayed the employer mandate.

That’s because insurance companies need young and healthy people in the pool to offset the costs for the older and sicker patients that they are now required to cover at affordable rates.

Suspending the mandate will mean that their most lucrative customers will bow out, making it impossible for them to honor the premiums that they are offering without going under. This could jeopardize patients far beyond those in the exchange.

But if the law ends up raising prices and/or throwing people out of coverage — the exact opposite of what it promised — Republicans will obtain potent ammunition against Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. (Who knows, Stewart might even join Sen. Ted Cruz’s defund Obamacare campaign!)

So long as Obama is in the Oval Office, Republicans can’t repeal the law outright, it is true. But they will be in a far stronger position to hold it up pending an overhaul.

It is never a good idea for a president to drag a country into war without broad-based support. That’s because he needs political cover to stick it through when things inevitably go wrong.

What’s true of war is even truer of a radical overhaul of one-sixth of the domestic economy.

Obama ignored that and pushed Obamacare without doing the hard work of putting together something that the other party could support.

Obamacare's problems ultimately are not technical but political -- and they might be just beginning.

Shikha Dalmia, a Washingon Examiner columnist, is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.
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Shikha Dalmia

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The Washington Examiner