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Morning Action: Is Serving the “Vast Majority of Users” Good Enough for HealthCare.gov?

EVOLVING TALKING POINTS.  The Wall Street Journal notes (sub. req’d) how the Obama administration’s talking points have evolved as their Obamacare goals prove elusive:

Three weeks after HealthCare.govcrashed shortly after takeoff, administration officials first began acknowledging in some detail how problematic the website was when they tasked former Office of Management and Budget head Jeffrey Zients to lead the clean-up effort.

It was Mr. Zients who test-drove the “vast majority of users” talking points during an Oct. 25 conference call with reporters, when he said that outside tech experts had examined the buggy website and deemed it fixable.

The phrase didn’t make it into Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Marilyn Tavenner’s prepared testimony four days later before a House committee.  (“We are committed to fixing these problems as soon as possible.”) But it was there a week later, when she testified before a Senate committee that “we are seeing improvements each week, and by the end of November, the experience on the site will be smooth for the vast majority of users.”

Ms. Tavenner’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius used the phrase multiples times over the next few weeks as she went to Capitol Hill to testify about the botched website launch.  “By the end of November, we are committed that the vast majority of users will be able to review their options, shop for plans and enroll in coverage without the problems way too many have been experiencing,” she told a House committee.

White House spokesman Jay Carney and CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille also regularly used the phrase in briefings over the next few weeks. It was used so often one Washington Post writer penned a column mocking it.

GLITCHES.  Though adequately serving the “vast majority of users” would not be a good enough standard for a company operating in the free market, the federal government workers think they can get away with it, which is what’s happening with Obamacare and HealthCare.gov:

“Federal officials promised that healthcare.gov would work smoothly for a vast majority of users starting today. But that has not been the case so far because this morning the critical verification system is unavailable. That’s the system that confirms identities and makes sure people are receiving proper coverage information.

“And applications cannot be submitted without this ant step. The site says this particular problem should be solved within 24 hours. And there is another error much earlier in the process as well. When the site asks if an insurance agent or navigator is assisting you with your application. Ater clicking none of these people are offering any guidance, the next screen incorrectly displays a message declaring the opposite. The banner says, you told us another person is helping you.

INSURERS.  Insurers and some states are now looking for ways to bypass the flawed HealthCare.gov website because the process is still not secure:

Federal officials said they had largely succeeded in repairing parts of the site that had most snarled users in the two months since its troubled launch, but acknowledged they only had begun to make headway on the biggest underlying problems: the system’s ability to verify users’ identities and accurately transmit enrollment data to insurers.

One of the leading states operating its own exchange is considering ways to decouple itself from the federal infrastructure it relies on to confirm residents’ eligibility for federal tax credits. That technology has been affected by planned and unplanned outages.

James Wadleigh, chief information officer of Connecticut’s exchange, said he was looking at having a new vendor support identity verification in addition to the federal vendor. He also said he wanted to be able to tap state databases, such as the labor department’s, to validate incomes and was seeking a way to prove people were legal residents without depending on U.S. data.

DEMOCRATS.  According to several polls, Republicans are pulling even or ahead of congressional Democrats, which doesn’t bode well for Democrats in the 2014 elections:

President Obama completed an ambitious fundraising schedule for Democrats in November, but many of the congressional candidates he is trying to help are finding their election prospects next year imperiled by the president’s faulty health care law.

Several polls in the past week have shown congressional Republicans pulling even or slightly ahead of Democrats in generic balloting for the midterm elections, a swing of at least 10 percentage points in less than a month. Pollsters attribute the seismic shift to the series of glaring flaws in Obamacare, most of which came to the public’s attention after the program’s rollout Oct. 1.

Among the Democrats hurt by Obamacare woes are Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, polling at 41 percent against Republican opponents; Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, polling at 33 percent, a drop of 18 points in a year; Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, now tied in a race that looked like his to win; and Sen. Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina, whose disapproval rating has soared in recent months.

CONTRACEPTIVE MANDATE.  The Washington Examiner reveals the corporatism behind Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate:

The audacity and mendacity with which the Obama administration defends its illegal contraception mandate is standard fare for politics. What’s distinctively Obamian in this fight is the insidious corporatism underlying it all.

Look at the contraception mandate from almost any angle, and you see the corporatism. Sometimes it’s on the surface, and sometimes it’s implicit in the arguments.

The contraception mandate is nakedly a huge subsidy to the industry that most firmly supported Obamacare: the drugmakers.

The drug industry has spent more on lobbying under Obama than any other industry. Top lobbyists at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) in 2009 met behind closed doors with the White House and Senate Democrats, promising political support for Democrats in exchange for friendly provisions in Obamacare.

IMMIGRATION.  The Heritage Foundation notes that amnesty may still be an issue to watch this year:

Is immigration reform coming back from the dead?

Over Thanksgiving, both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have indicated that the issue —which has meant amnesty, by any other name—is alive on Capitol Hill.

But Americans are wary of promises from Washington right now. They have learned the hard way to watch what this President does and not what he says. After all, he has broken promises about Obamacare and acted without Congress to waive or delay parts of the health care law. And he has shown himself more than willing to test the constitutional limits of executive power not only on immigration but many other matters.

The immigration discussions have strayed far from the positive path to immigration and border security reform the country should be on. That path exists, and it does not lead tomore broken promises.

FARM BILL.  Lawmakers may move forward with a farm bill “compromise,” but if they do, taxpayers and consumers will definitely be harmed in the process because there has not been sufficient reform to the programs in the bill:

As the House comes back into session Monday, the farm bill looks like it may be in more trouble than it really is.

The week before Thanksgiving the four principal negotiators—House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss.—failed to meet their own self-imposed deadline of reaching a framework for a conference report before taking a break for the holidays.

But they did meet three times last week and have talked on the phone several times since. The Senate is not in session this week, but all conferees have been told they may be summoned to Washington for an open conference meeting on the bill on Wednesday. A Cochran spokesman said that whether the meeting takes place this week or not, “The principals continue to talk and are having substantive discussions. They all hope to come up with a plan that is workable for all parts of the country.”

Heritage notes:

The House and Senate are expected to meet soon to work out differences in their farm bills—or more appropriately titled, their food stamp bills… To achieve any substantive reform, agriculture policy and food stamps must be separated into different bills now and in the future. For political reasons alone, food stamps and agriculture policy have been combined into farm bills. By getting urban legislators who tend to support food stamps and rural legislators who tend to support farm programs into a coalition, Congress has enacted farm bills without proper consideration of these programs on their merits. Real reform will only be achieved when Congress takes the time to address these issues independently.

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