Health Analyst: Botched Website Pales In Comparison To Americans’ ‘Loss Of Faith And Trust’ In Obama

By Candice Leigh Helfand
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A view of HealthCare.gov, the insurance exchange website. (credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of HealthCare.gov, the insurance exchange website. (credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — President Barack Obama has come under fire in recent weeks as millions of Americans started receiving insurance cancellation letters due to their policies’ lack of compliance with standards of coverage set by the Affordable Care Act.

Notices have been sent despite Obama’s repeated promises in the past that people would not be forced to change their insurance under the new law. CBS News reported that 4.8 million Americans could potentially lose their health insurance due to Obamacare.

Former President Bill Clinton joined the call for a change when he said during a recent interview that Obama should find a way to let people keep their health coverage – even if it means making alterations to the new insurance law.

On Thursday, Obama addressed the issue when he told the nation that he planned to delay notices of expiration on canceled insurance plans for one year. He also emphasized that plans predating the ACA are being grandfathered into the new law.

“Today, we are extending that principle to people whose plans have changed … and people who have bought plans since,” he continued, noting that those who might have lost their plans before will now have the chance to re-enroll in the policy of their choosing.

He added, “[This proposal] won’t fix every problem for every person, but it’s going to help a lot of people.”

The plan was announced just one day after the White House revealed that a mere 106,185 people enrolled into Obamacare, accounting for only 1.5 percent of the 7 million people the administration hopes to enroll by next year.

Christopher J. Conover, a research scholar at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research, told CBS DC that the issue of canceled coverage is “considerably more problematic than the inconvenience of a malfunctioning website,” especially when coupled with the prospect of higher premiums for insurance procured through the marketplace.

“To the average taxpayer, it is certainly annoying that an agency given $600 million and [over] three years to create a website botched that tasked rather substantially,” he said. “But I think that pales in comparison to their loss of faith [and] trust in their president, whose public opinion ratings on the trust issue in particular have plummeted over the past few weeks.”

Dr. Christopher Lillis, a full-time private practice internist in Fredericksburg, Va. and a member of Doctors for America, agreed with the notion that frustrations are higher regarding policy cancellations than they are over site glitches.

“In my immediate dealings, advocates of the ACA and the uninsured are frustrated by the troubles with HealthCare.gov but not angry,” he noted to CBS DC, adding that those who have been waiting for coverage are, in his experience, willing to continue doing so while the technical issues of the site are resolved. “Those losing coverage are angry. Some are downright inconsolable.”

He also said, of what he referred to as the “narrow group” of people affected, “Many understand that our entire health insurance market will be better off once the ACA is fully implemented, but feel betrayed since they were told they could keep their plan.”

Surveys indicate that Americans are indeed frustrated enough with the situation to doubt the validity of Obama’s words on this – and other – matters. A recent Gallup poll shows that the amount of people in the United States who would describe the president as “honest and trustworthy” has dipped five percentage points in recent weeks.

The issue has raised several questions regarding Obama’s present approval ratings, as well as his ability to effectively lead the nation through the remainder of his presidency. The notion of the ACA negatively affecting his legacy as a president has also been bandied about.

For Conover, the reception the ACA received thus far is somewhat predictable in nature, given that opinions tend to be divided along party lines. He also referred to the rollout as a “Rorschach test” of sorts, with the law’s perceived beauty existing in the eye of the beholder.

“[H]ardcore opponents of the law have reacted by saying this botched rollout proves it was a bad idea for government to have so much control over health care in the first place, so let’s get on with the business of delaying, repealing and/or replacing the law,” he said. “Conversely, hardcore proponents seem to have taken the attitude that this is just an expected speed bump not substantially different than the problems that plagued the rollout of Medicare Part D.”

Lillis agreed, to an extent, and additionally noted that commentary from both sides has only negatively affected the chances Obamacare has of being successful.

“The political horse race has tainted the explanation of the ACA and left people with rumor and misinformation rather than a pragmatic understanding of the consumer protections baked into the ACA and the needed improvements to our broken health care system,” he observed. “The American people simply need better education about what’s in the law.”

In an article for Forbes magazine, Conover discussed the potential implications of the botched rollout of the ACA on Obama’s legacy.

“Americans may not expect their presidents to be completely truthful, especially in political campaigns,” he stated in the article. “But as the disconnect keeps widening between what was promised and what actually happens as Obamacare plays out, disappointment will gradually give way to anger—even among those who are on the fence about the plan.”

Conover added, “Even if it does not, it might well enter the pantheon of government-sponsored programs such as the Post Office and Amtrak that are an ongoing source of late-night humor. Surely this does not bode well for its contributing to a legacy of greatness.”

He additionally told CBS DC that he felt that situations in Benghazi and Iran would be far more significant in discussions of Obama’s legacy as commander-in-chief than “any broken domestic policy promises.”

Lillis took a different perspective on the ACA while writing on the subject for Doctors for America, voicing his support of what the ACA might accomplish in the long run.

“Underappreciated by all, the Affordable Care Act is going to encourage providers to focus much more on the costliest element of our health care system; those individuals who require complicated, ongoing, disease management,” he said. “When chronic care is executed poorly, preventable complications occur in patients with skyrocketing downstream costs.”

He continued, “The Affordable Care Act is going to encourage providers to screen for chronic diseases and intervene early while those conditions are still easily manageable using effective and efficient coordinated care. This will allow us to reduce health care spending for all of us – everyone who pays taxes and everyone who pays health insurance premiums.”

Regardless of its potential merits, Conover views Obamacare as something of a missed opportunity.

“Imagine if he had actually crafted a compromise proposal that took into account some of the best ideas John McCain had offered and combined them with some of the aspirations of progressives in Congress,” he said. “He then would have had people on both sides of the aisle working hard to see the plan succeed and presumably far more cooperation from Republican governors, etc.”

He added, “He took a huge gamble in electing … to push for a comprehensive plan on a pure party line vote. His party likely lost the House because of that gamble and unless a miracle occurs, the rollout currently is on track to wreak very similar damage on the electoral fates of Democrats in 2014 and 2016.”

Lillis noted in contrast that, if the ACA follows the path of Massachusetts’ own health care law, that it may yet be destined for success, “so long as it survives the political attempts to dismantle it.”

“President Obama was brave to enact health care reform where no other President had succeeded despite 100 years of attempts dating back to President Teddy Roosevelt,” he stated. “I believe history will judge President Obama kindly once the glitches of the ACA are worked out and Americans enjoy the financial and personal security of health insurance.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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