Get unlimited digital access to $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion

As president grovels, politics of Obamacare get worse

In the long run, Obamacare is likely to be as popular and permanent as Medicare; in the short term, however, it is turning into the worst political crisis of Barack Obama's presidency.

On Thursday, the contrite president announced that Americans whose health care insurance policies have been cancelled due to requirements of the Affordable Care Act would have another year to keep those policies. This new guarantee is meant to make up for his ill-considered promise that no one would lose their old policies if they wanted to keep what they had.

The problem with Mr. Obama's new promise, though, is that he cannot force insurers to restore policies they have already terminated. And rather than doing the president any favors, those insurers are attacking him for trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.

Mr. Obama has a mess on his hands and -- judging by his almost daily apologies for the screwed up launch of the national health care exchange website, as well as for his misstatements about the effect of the plan on several million people who buy their own policies -- it is pretty clear he knows how deep the mess has become.

Instead of anyone offering to help him out, though, everyone is piling on.

His fellow Democrats in the House and Senate are panicked, fearing that the bad feelings about Obamacare will imperil their chances for re-election. Some are rushing to concoct a bill -- any bill! -- to do something -- anything! -- about health care. Their object is not to provide a fix, but to provide political cover. In the words of NBC's chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, Democratic senators and congressmen want to be able to demonstrate to their constituents that they "stood up to the president."

It may seem strange that Democrats would prefer to run against Mr. Obama rather than put in extra effort to make the president's health care plan work, but fear of losing a political career makes politicians do weird things.

Electoral considerations are also what drive the Republican response to Obama's predicament. Any bad news for the president is good news for them. The last thing they would think of doing is anything constructive to improve America's health care system if doing so would help the president they despise.

The media are running with the story, of course -- not just the permanent opposition at Fox News, but most of the so-called mainstream media. Obamacare's shaky start is the hot political crisis of the moment and can hardly be ignored. Still, as Rachel Maddow observed on MSNBC Thursday night, Romneycare -- the Massachusetts health care scheme which provided the template for Obamacare -- took a year to catch on, and no one at the time thought of the early missteps as a huge scandal or proof that the plan would never get off the ground. Politicians in both parties worked to pull it together and now 97 percent of the citizens of Massachusetts have health care coverage.

Don't expect anything like that sensible approach with Obamacare. Health care is a political football, above all else, at the national level. Barack Obama has blown several big plays and lost a lot of yardage. His own team is not providing much coverage and the other side is lined up, revved up and ready to sack him, steal the ball and put him out of the game.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to to see more of his work.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • What's the bang for our health exchange buck?
    What's the bang for our health exchange buck?

    The article, "Health exchange enrolls over 100,000 people" (Dec. 17), was informative, and I hope reporter Meredith Cohn has a follow up.

  • Why don't Dems question Md.'s flawed health exchange rollout?
    Why don't Dems question Md.'s flawed health exchange rollout?

    Who are Gov. Martin O'Malley and Attorney General Doug Gansler trying to kid? The reason potential litigation over the flawed rollout of Maryland's health exchange is being postponed is the upcoming election. They are deeply afraid of what Noridian is going to claim about Lt. Gov. Anthony...

  • How can Ehrlich relish suffering of others?
    How can Ehrlich relish suffering of others?

    It saddens me to see the former congressman and governor of Maryland salivating with anticipation at the thought of depriving millions of Americans of decent health insurance by rolling back the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare is a varsity stinker," Nov. 23).

  • Sun's stupidity is showing
    Sun's stupidity is showing

    You have published several articles recently in support of Obamacare but have chosen to ignore the news of how this hoax was enacted through deception, fraud, misrepresentation of material facts and outright lies ("Who are you calling stupid?" Nov. 14)!

  • Obamacare: Beyond the website
    Obamacare: Beyond the website

    While it's too early to declare the new Maryland health insurance exchange website a complete success, its largely smooth launch this week offers the prospect that this open enrollment period will be focused less on the technology and more on ensuring Marylanders are getting access to high...

  • Getting help with health exchange
    Getting help with health exchange

    We couldn't agree more with the importance of consumers getting in-person assistance when they purchase health insurance ("Obamacare: Beyond the website," Nov. 21). That's why the Maryland Women's Coalition for Health Care Reform named Maryland's connector entities with their navigators and...