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On the Third Hand: Apologies

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President Obama apologized Thursday for the problems with the exchange plan enrollment system, and for the reality that it turned out that some people who like their coverage are losing it.

Maybe Obama and administration regulators understood the implicit limits on the promise that “If you like your coverage, you can keep it,” and maybe careful readers understood the limits on PPACA grandfathering at least as early as August 2010. 

But there were gaps in what Obama was saying and what some consumers were thinking he was saying. Obama said he’s sorry.

On the one hand, that’s nice.

On the other hand, the apology has a hollow sound to it.

Personally, I have (sorry) nothing whatsoever ever against the exchange program, and no sense of shock that the website might have problems. 

But what’s really disappointing is to see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials go to hearings and give vague non-answers to the questions of members of Congress about simple matters such as, “How many people have enrolled in exchange plans?” and “How many people are working on the ‘technical surge,’” then to look at the exchange program “war room” notes posted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and see that the people in the war room could probably give pretty good answers to the questions.

We as a society let Obama administration officials get away with vague assurances about how great PPACA and the exchanges would be for years partly because it seemed as if the officials knew what they were doing and had the situation under control. Now that we see that, if nothing else, their level of control over the exchange program had some gaps, it seems as if administration officials should try harder to give answers that are detailed and concrete enough to show that they may actually understand the details, not just vague assurances that someone is working through a punchlist of problems and that the situation will look better at the end of November.

On the third hand, maybe there are great legal or strategic reasons why administration officials have reasons to stonewall, to avoid falling into a Republican trap.

If so, I think this helps define the point at which partisanship has gone too far: The point at which partisanship leads to so much obstruction of communication that we can’t even find out how many people are working to fix the website. That’s too far.

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