By MARSHA MERCER
In the health exchange website debacle, Washington has moved through denial, anger and finger pointing. Now we’ve hit the apology stage.
On Wednesday, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, called the online marketplace where people were supposed to be able to compare and buy insurance easily starting Oct. 1 “a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans.”
“You deserve better,” she said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. “I apologize.”
And when the terrier from Tennessee, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, snapped at Sebelius, asking who was responsible for the mess, Sebelius said, “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”
A day earlier, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency responsible for setting up the online marketplaces, also apologized.
“To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the Web site has not worked as well as it should,” Tavenner said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.
President Barack Obama, while stopping short of an actual apology, has said “nobody is madder than me.” He apparently can’t brake for pronouns at a time like this.
Seriously, the president must be mad at himself for letting this fiasco befall his signature legislative achievement. It’s his legacy at stake. Obama struck a confident note Wednesday in Boston, insisting that the rollout problems are solvable. A lot is riding on whether the website is running smoothly Nov. 30, as promised,
In his speech at Faneuil Hall, Obama sought to clear up confusion about his oft-repeated promise that people could keep their insurance under the new system. Some people who buy health insurance on the individual market have received cancellation notices. Obama explained that a few policies fail to meet consumer protection standards in the health law, but the people will be eligible for better coverage and possibly for premium subsidies.
Typically, embattled public figures follow the old legal advice to doctors facing malpractice claims: “Defend and deny.” Testifying before Congress, the lawyered-up contractors who engineered the troubled marketplace avoided showing even a smidgen of remorse.
When a top-level public servant like Sibelius has the wit to apologize and sound sincere, she conveys the sense that she gets it, that she knows real people are being hurt by her agency’s ineptitude.
Don’t get me wrong. An apology – many apologies -- from Washington won’t shorten anyone’s wait on HealthCare.gov or pay the insurance premium. People want results; they want their government to work.
At the same time, though, people should realize that Obamacare is a moving political target.
“We did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website,” the president says. As rocky as the rollout of the exchanges has been, the president insists, the Affordable Care Act is already working to make insurance more readily available and affordable. That, of course, won’t satisfy the law’s foes.
Obama repeatedly says he’ll work with anyone who wants to fix the law, but congressional Republicans have no interest in mending it. If it’s not the website, it’s the canceled policies or the cost of premiums or something else. The GOP needs to be accountable too.
Where,Republicans, is your long-promised alternative to the health law? Let us see it – or help fix what’s broken.
A president saves his apologies for big moments. Obama reportedly apologized to irate German Chancellor Angela Merkel after news broke that the United States had been listening to her phone calls for years. He apologized Oct. 8, during the government shutdown, for the unfolding fiscal dramas in Washington.
“To all the American people: I apologize,” he said, but he couldn’t resist turning the apology into a rebuke, saying what he needs to do is to break his foes of their bad habits in negotiations.
Speaking of apologies, I’ve yet to see tea party Republicans apologize for shutting down the government or
sending the world’s blood pressure sky high with games over raising the debt ceiling.
An apology is not a solution, but it is a start. It takes guts to say you’re sorry. Who’ll be next?
© 2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.