President Barack Obama touted benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a speech at the White House Thursday, claiming his signature health care bill is “doing what it’s designed to do.” The president also acknowledged the “glitches” that have impacted the implementation of the law, including his announced one-year delay of a so-called “employer mandate” requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance.
Alex Wagner, and most of her Thursday Now panel, came to the defense of the president over ObamaCare and its implementation, while blasting Republicans for being “reluctant to embrace” the unpopular bill. Wagner invited on White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri to tout the legislation’s purported benefits, but included no conservatives on her panel to challenge Palmieri’s claims.
Wagner’s questions to Palmieri kicked off the 19-minute long segment on ObamaCare, as the MSNBC host ignored the opportunity to ask discerning questions of the communications director – instead scolding Republicans and giving Palmieri license to do the same.
Wagner acknowledged the “train wreck metaphor” around ObamaCare, offering that she and Palmieri could “laugh” at such opposition to the bill. The host then asked if Palmieri was “confident” about the ongoing rollout for the Act’s health care exchanges.
Some might argue that such a question to the White House’s communication arm is somewhat pointless. It’s not as if Palmieri would suggest, or even imply, a lack of confidence on the administration’s part.
Before Palmieri left, Wagner also fretted over the potential of “glitches” to derail “other pieces of legislation the president would like to see completed” in his second term. But most of the vitriol for Republicans was reserved for the panel discussion after Palmieri’s comments.
The MSNBC host highlighted an opinion piece from liberal Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias, gushing that “the rollout [of ObamaCare] is going to be a huge success.” Wagner didn’t challenge Yglesias’s argument, but instead worried if “red states” would hinder the administration’s efforts:
I think certain parts of this seem, clearly, to be working. That said, as Ezra points out in his piece – the White House didn’t build in the resistance from red states, from states not setting up exchanges, from governors who did not want to expand the Medicaid rolls, which accounts for a huge portion of the uninsured that are supposed to get insurance.
Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle also vilified Republicans, complaining:
Their base really hates it. And their base is still really angry about being told elections have consequences, in 2010. Like, they didn’t like that line. They still don’t like it.
Of course, many Democrats did not follow the “elections have consequences” mantra after George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, if anything strengthening their push to challenge the Iraq War. On the domestic front, Democrats pulled out all the stops to demonize and successfully scuttle any of President Bush’s proposed Social Security reforms.
McArdle, to her credit, later shared an anecdote of a friend who will pay more for health insurance under ObamaCare, acknowledging that some are “getting more coverage” even when “they didn’t want more coverage.” That’s one significant issue with the new law, which requires an extensive amount of coverage in even basic health insurance plans, and forbids health insurance companies from offering more bare-bones packages that would cost less for consumers who wish to get such a basic plan.
Wagner once again berated “red states” who are “exploiting” their constituents before turning to Bob Herbert – late of the New York Times, and now working for the liberal think tank Demos. Herbert responded by fretting over the administration’s effort to sign young people up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act:
I think it’s going to be hard to sign up a lot of these young people. One, they’re not interested in getting health insurance. They’re not interested in taking on additional expenses, and there is no real penalty, if I understand it correctly, if they don’t do it.
For her part, Wagner did correct Herbert’s error, asserting that there is, indeed, a penalty for those who don’t obtain insurance under the new health care law. But a telling moment came as Wagner tried to put a positive spin on that admission:
Well, there is a penalty. And there is also the incentive of – well, there are incentives.
It appears that Wagner couldn’t identify a specific incentive of ObamaCare when attempting to pivot from her acknowledgment of a penalty. Although there are tax incentives for those who fall within a certain income range and purchase insurance at the exchanges, it’s alarming that a fierce proponent of ObamaCare such as Wagner could not identify even one incentive to purchase insurance under the new law.
See the full transcript below:
Now with Alex Wagner
July 18, 2013
12:03 p.m. Eastern
ALEX WAGNER: Joining me today, distinguished senior fellow at Demos, Bob Herbert. MSNBC policy analyst, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle. And Bloomberg Businessweek senior national correspondent John Green. Joining us now, from the front lawn of the White House, is communications director Jennifer Palmieri. Jennifer, thank you for bearing with the heat – and I don’t mean just rhetorically, but also the physical heat. Thanks for joining us.
JENNIFER PALMIERI: It’s all right out here. Happy to be here.
WAGNER: So Jennifer, I want to ask: this narrative that Republicans have spent years crafting, the anti-ACA [Affordable Care Act] narrative, we may laugh at the train wreck metaphor, but there is a meme out there that the law is a mess. And I know that a huge part of this is convincing young people, and specifically young people of color in certain states, to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. As the CBO reports, if seven million people sign up, 2.7 million have to be younger and healthier people. Are you confident, right now, 76 days before this thing rolls out that you can get those numbers?
PALMIERI: We are. And it’s 75 days. We all have calendars in our office –
WAGNER [laughing]: Even fewer. Even fewer.
PALMIERI: Even fewer, but we feel ready for it. What you saw the president do today is talk about some of the benefits that are already in place, and in terms of holding insurance companies accountable. Obviously as you noted, the rates – insurance rates in New York are going down. We want people to understand that, while there’s a lot of the law needs to be implemented, there’s much that is already happening, and it is going well and it is already providing help for real people. In terms of implementation, the president has always said this is not likely to be the one enterprise in human history that doesn’t encounter problems.
It is a big undertaking, and we understand – that’s why we’re taking it not just seriously but smartly, we think, in terms of when we encounter problems, pausing, trying to deal with them. One example is when we had an original application applied to be part of the health care exchange, it was 17 pages. That was too long, so we trimmed it down to three pages. But in terms of reaching out to the youth, this is something that thankfully the Obama world, if you will, has a lot of experience in and does pretty well.
We have a big challenge ahead of us but we feel that we’ve done a lot of research, a lot of the statistical work you want to do about who you need to reach and how you reach them. It is a lot of young people, and we have plans to do that, but you won’t be surprised – but probably be interested to know – that probably the best way to reach these young people is through their mothers. Even for young adults, it’s not surprising to learn they’ll probably be listening to their moms, if their mom tell them to sign up for insurance. So we also have a plan for how you include moms and women in that outreach as well.
WAGNER: Let me ask you, in terms of pauses and understanding that big programs like this take time and you’re going to run into glitches – the delay of the employer mandate has been seized upon by the right, and they are now using this as proof that you never know what the administration is going to enforce, and you can’t trust government, and they’ve even used that as a reason to scuttle bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform in the House. How worried are you about these future glitches derailing the whole prospect, not just the rollout of the ACA, but of other pieces of legislation the president would like to see completed before the end of the second term?
PALMIERI: Well I have to say, that we’ve learned how to deal with it. We’ve certainly had a lot of experience learning to deal with it at this point, with an opposition that doesn’t – that isn’t willing to drop their opposition when something becomes law. At some point this is the law of the land. We know that the American people – they believe that we should implement it. When there is problems, we should deal with them. But they are not for repealing it, and at some point the Republicans are standing in the way of making sure that their constituents are able to get affordable coverage. That’s for the Republicans to worry about, and our job is to do it as best as we can.
With the employer mandate, what we found there is – as you know, 96 percent of businesses already provide insurance for their employees, and people are concerned that the reporting requirements for big employers is a complicated piece of business. This decision didn’t affect people actually getting coverage. It is just about reporting on it. So, we thought it was wise to take a year, to work with businesses to get it right. That’s what we’re trying to do, to show that when we encounter a problem we address concerns and it is important that we bring everyone along in this process.
I know that a lot of the Republicans yesterday were talking about this being a train wreck. And I’d note that today Senator Baucus, a Democrat who had had some early concerns about implementation, wrote an op-ed today where he said that he had a lot of faith and confidence in our rollout and that we were going to be able to do this. So people have concerns, we want to address them. Whether it is members of Congress, whether it’s businesses, understand that we got a plan to get this in place and we’re going to stick at it.
WAGNER: The White House communications director, Jen Palmieri, thank you as always. We will be hoping to hear more from you in the next 74 days.
PALMIERI: Ok, thank you.
WAGNER: Let’s open this up to everybody, Josh. Matt Yglesias writes in Slate: “Conservatives are certainly fooling themselves if they’re expecting a backlash driven by problems around implementation. The law is structured to be financially beneficial to a large majority of people, and the infrastructure is in place to make that clear to a critical mass. Snafus will be real enough, but broadly speaking, the rollout is going to be a huge success.”
I think certain parts of this seem, clearly, to be working. That said, as Ezra points out in his piece – the White House didn’t build in the resistance from red states, from states not setting up exchanges, from governors who did not want to expand the Medicaid rolls, which accounts for a huge portion of the uninsured that are supposed to get insurance. There is resistance there that they are now having to deal with sort of as this thing is getting rolled out.
JOSH GREEN: Right, well, I think a lot of the Republican opposition is essentially faith-based. Their strategy instead of, kind of, putting forward a positive strategy to draw a wider audience – they’ve seized on ObamaCare and said polls show this is unpopular, and we’re going to kind of press our advantage here. But one of the things that comes through in Ezra’s piece is that the Obama administration doesn’t really know how this is going to roll out. They’re confident, they think it’s going to work. But it is a challenge, almost sort of a turnout challenge. You’ve got people from the campaign working on this from within the administration. You also have – I did a big piece on Obama’s data team. The company they’ve started, they’re working through the private sector and non-profits, essentially trying to figure out the same thing – what buttons to press to get people to climb aboard a train, to choose a metaphor completely at random.
WAGNER [laughing]: Where did you get that? Megan, I wonder what you make of the conservative argument – using ObamaCare the way that conservatives have. Which is really catch-all. I mean, at one point they were comparing George Zimmerman’s trial to ObamaCare. ObamaCare certainly came into play during the immigration reform debate. Again, Ezra points out that ObamaCare is kind of known as ObamaCare amongst conservative circles, but in the practical state implementations of the Affordable Care Act there are totally different names for it. Like, I can’t remember some of them –
EZRA KLEIN: Cover California – the point being the marketplace is all getting individual state names.
WAGNER: I mean, average Americans aren’t sitting there stewing about ObamaCare. So is this really an effective battering ram?
MEGAN McARDLE: Well, for one thing, it is really effective for their base. Their base really hates it. And their base is still really angry about being told elections have consequences, in 2010. Like, they didn’t like that line. They still don’t like it. They get fired up every time. You go to any conservative event, I guarantee there is a guy at the front who’s “elections have consequences” – and people get really angry. But also, it’s not popular. I mean, it still isn’t popular. Democrats thought that this thing was gonna go – you know, we’re going to pass it now, it’s at 40 percent, we’re going to be at 55 by the time – it didn’t happen.
WAGNER: Right, but history shows that these big – Medicare Part D had lower public approval rating –
McARDLE: But it didn’t have disapproval ratings. It was just most people had no idea what Medicare Part D [was] – most people never heard of it.
KLEIN: I’m on your side in this, but Medicare Part D had a very bad, unpopular rollout. It was horrendously implemented from the beginning.
McARDLE: Sort of.
KLEIN: It became unpopular –
McARDLE: But the difference is that – it’s a voluntary program. The problem was some seniors got too many subsidies, right? Other problems, some didn’t get enough. But it was a voluntary program and it didn’t have this kind of – it wasn’t this big. It wasn’t nearly this complicated, and working up the subsidies – it [Medicare Part D] was $37 a month. This is not the same as: oh, I just found out that I have to pay $700 a month for insurance, instead of the – for example, someone I know just found out in California, their policy’s getting canceled and they’re going to have to pay more, because they had a catastrophic policy before. So they’re getting more coverage, but they didn’t want more coverage. They wanted to not be paying $700 a month. So these sorts of things, it’s just different. The proof is going to be in the pudding. We’re going to find out, and obviously the administration is going to say this is going to be awesome and everyone is going to love it, and Republicans are going to say this is going to be the worst thing ever. We’ll know in 75 days.
WAGNER: I guess, will we know? I mean, part of this is – and Bob [Herbert], if you look at the example – New York and California you’re seeing a premiums drop. The HHS report says you’re going to see a 20 percent average drop in insurance premiums. But what I worry about is, because red state governors have been so reluctant to embrace this, by either setting up exchanges or expanding Medicaid rolls, what if you have a situation where the ACA is great in blue states and bad in red states? I mean, then again you are exploiting – I mean, the partisan lines over ObamaCare do not get cross-hatched.
BOB HERBERT: I think there’s a good chance that that will happen. We have no idea how the rollout is ultimately going to fare, but this is a complicated program with different situations in different states. I thought that the story about the premiums dropping in New York, it was factually accurate but somewhat deceptive in the sense that it gave the impression that there’s this big drop in premiums. That’s not the case. I think it’s going to be hard to sign up a lot of these young people. One, they’re not interested in getting health insurance. They’re not interested in taking on additional expenses, and there is no real penalty, if I understand it correctly, if they don’t do it.
WAGNER: Well, there is a penalty. And there is also the incentive of – well, there are incentives.
HERBERT: Well, will they be able to enforce the penalty is the question. I’ve been going around, talking to young people about employment and the problem which I guess we’ll be talking about later in the show, the problem of the college debt that they are dealing with. The question of whether the government is going to track them down, actually impose and enforce a penalty for not having gone on and buy health insurance, I think is problematic.