President Barack Obama has now acknowledged the need for major changes to the Obamacare computer problems that spoiled its rollout and prevented many of the hundreds of thousands of interested Americans from enrolling or even learning basic information about the Affordable Care Act.
"No one is madder than me that the health site isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed," Obama told a White House gathering Monday, stressing that the problems are technical, not substantive, because the insurance itself is "high quality and its affordable."
But while federal officials struggle to solve problems that are clearly worse than what they initially labeled "glitches," including some they sought to ignore in the rush to get the program underway, the process has proceeded more smoothly in many — but not all — of the states that opted to create their own exchanges instead of relying on the federal operation.
In Oregon, for example, officials say that enrollments in the Oregon Health Plan have already cut the state's number of uninsured by 10 percent. In Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear personally supervised the launching of the state's Kynect exchange, officials said enrollments were running about 1,000 a day.
In some other states, many more people sought and received information than initially enrolled. In Colorado, where its website received 162,941 unique visitors and had 18,174 accounts opened, only 226 actual plans were bought. But the system has been operating for less than a month, and potential purchasers have plenty of time before the Jan. 1 start of insurance coverage.
The federal website's problems have been greeted gleefully by Republicans who make no secret they hope the entire health care plan is a flop. A barrage of partisan criticism is likely when the GOP-run House Energy and Commerce Committee begins Thursday to probe the computer problems. Indeed, politics is very much evident in almost everything about the plan, for and against.
For example, 14 of the 17 states operating their own exchanges to manage the law, as the ACA intended, are governed by Democrats who support Obamacare.
By contrast, 27 of the 34 states that declined to create state exchanges — and thus opted to use the federal apparatus — are governed by Republicans, who mostly sought to emphasize their opposition to the law. If the federal operation fares badly, so too will their citizens.
Only eight (of 30) GOP governors are among the 25 that have signed up for the federally financed Medicaid expansion that is a key component of the plan.
All this means that most states choosing to rely on Washington are led by Republican governors who, like Texas' Rick Perry, have long said states should take responsibility for major governmental operations affecting their citizens, rather than the federal government. But for this major new law, they decided to dump responsibility for running it within their states on Washington, while making premature pronouncements of its failure.
In Kentucky, perhaps the most successful of the state Obamacare operations, Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul wrote an op-ed just three days after its launch for the Kentucky Enquirer, declaring, "Obamacare might sell in New York but Kentuckians aren't buying it."
But, in mid-October, after a week in which officials said 8,500 Kentuckians signed up for the state's approximately 60 available health care plans, 240 small business enrolled and an additional 7,000 started applications, Gov. Beshear told MSNBC the two "are simply ignoring the facts when they continue to insist that 'no one' in Kentucky wants the Affordable Care Act."
As for the national problems, the Obama administration deserves significant blame. It did an even worse job in preparing for the rollout than it did in selling it to the American people when it was being passed.
In a less partisan climate, it might well have sought to delay the ACA's onset to fix the computer problems. But officials clearly don't want to give Republican critics more ammunition to delay or kill the program and count on being able to fix the problems soon enough to make the system work.
Millions of uninsured Americans and the millions of others who would benefit hope they succeed.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorfgmail.com.