Obama bids good riddance to 2013
President Obama is looking forward to a better year in 2014, but that will require a significant improvement in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Baseball's home-run king Babe Ruth accidentally summarized the pitfalls of the presidency in 1930 when, asked to defend receiving a higher salary ($80,000) than the president of the United States ($75,000), he replied, "I had a better year than (President) Hoover."
Ruth did have a great season in 1932, hitting .359 with 49 home runs and 153 runs-batted-in.
Meanwhile, President Herbert Hoover was caught in the quagmire of the Great Depression, an economic contagion that seared the nation and drove him from office in the 1932 election.
The point is that all presidents have ups and downs, the latest example being a wan and weather-beaten President Barack Obama who held his final press conference of the year last week before heading off to vacation in Hawaii.
Owing to changing times, Major League rookies earning the minimum salary ($490,000) make more than the president ($400,000). But so far as 2013 goes, even the weakest rookie had a better year than Obama.
There's no question Obama started strong, beginning with a ferocious call at his second-term inauguration for a string of new government programs to address a wide variety of societal ills. But he finished weak, beset by the fallout from one of those very programs he insisted would cure what ails this country's health care system — high costs and too many uninsured Americans.
Obamacare, he promised, would save every American family $2,500 and cover the uninsured while sparing Americans already insured with the need to either change their health insurance plan or their doctors.
Not only is none of that true, his pledges are proving egregiously and knowingly false.
It's no secret that presidents sometimes play fast and loose with the facts. They bob, weave, spin and sometimes outright lie to achieve their goals. All is generally forgiven if things work out.
But Obamacare has been a rolling disaster since the government's first nonfunctioning website went up on Oct. 1.
Obama tried to put a positive spin on his much-vaunted Affordable Care Act when he got together with the news media. He insisted that "the product is good" and "the demand is there."
But even while insisting that "the core" of Obamacare remains in place, he had just hours earlier declared that another key provision in the law was no longer operative.
Contrary to the expressed intent of his signature legislation, Obama decreed that the millions of Americans who have had their insurance coverage canceled now are free to purchase catastrophic insurance and will not be required to pay financial penalties if they remain uninsured in 2014.
Earlier in the year, Obama delayed the employer mandate for a year. Then in response to widespread insurance policy cancellations, Obama said the insurance companies could continue to offer the same policies the Obamacare legislation banned — if state insurance commissioners agreed to go along with the plan.
Given all these abrupt changes from the law, as it was written, all that is clear about Obamacare is that it's not clear at all.
The government's failed website — a stunning display of governmental incompetence — is no longer the principal problem. Obamacare's major blemish is that for many people the policies it offers cost too much, cover too little and fear unaffordable deductibles.
People desperate for health insurance, of course, have a great incentive to sign up, no matter what the cost. It's those who feel they don't have a pressing need for insurance coverage who are skittish about purchasing coverage.
Therein lies the problem, and perhaps the next bailout.
If too many sick people sign up, but not enough healthy people follow suit — and that's the trend now — this will be a financial disaster for the insurance companies. It would force them to raise already high prices, creating even more incentive for healthy younger people not to enroll in Obamacare. That is the so-called death spiral that strikes fear into the hearts of the Obama administration.
Obviously, there's a lot riding on how the sign-up period goes. The chaos and confusion further undermine what would be, at best, a problematic situation. Obama's granting of mass exemptions are sparing hardships for many and easing the political concerns of his fellow Democrats. At the same time, they are making it harder for Obamacare to escape the edge of the cliff it's on.
No wonder the president looked haggard. No wonder he was looking forward to vacation. No wonder he's keeping his fingers crossed for 2014.