Health care reform: the failure that keeps on succeeding

Oh, looky here: according to Talking Points Memo, the most successful state in implementing health care reform is…

… Vermont.

Yes, Vermont, the state where spectacularly unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock insisted that the system didn’t work and wouldn’t work, and was “a story of incompetence and hubris.” But somehow, in spite of all that, Vermont has managed to enroll a higher percentage of Obamacare-eligible people than any other state.

According to TPM, Vermont has enrolled 52.4% of its eligible population. It’s the only state over 50%. TPM arrived at estimates of eligible populations using figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute. Details at the above link.

And there’s good news on the other end of the system as well:

Vermont’s largest health care provider has had few problems with patients using health insurance provided by the state’s new health care exchange since coverage began Jan. 1, an official said Wednesday.

… Shannon Lonergan, director of registration at Burlington’s Fletcher Allen Health Care, said only a small percentage of the thousands of patients the hospital and its affiliated offices see every day have been covered by insurance provided through Vermont Health Connect. Still, they expected more problems than they have seen.

”Surprisingly, it’s gone well,” she said.

Here’s the thing that’s often been lost in the shuffle: the website, the software — those things are not health care reform; they are tools to achieve reform. What’s becoming very clear is that while the tools didn’t initially work as they should, the actual process of reform is doing quite well, thank you.

Maybe that’s why the dead-ender opponents of reform, like Sore Loser Brock and Darcie “Hack” Johnston, have pretty much stopped talking about the health care exchange; instead, they’ve turned their fire on single-payer. Because they know opposing the exchange is a lost cause.

After the jump: That Newsweek report, and the Huntsman’s obsession.  

Well, they still harp on the flaws in the initial rollout and make wide-ranging accusations of misconduct or corruption or stupidity or whatever. But they’ve stopped saying “the system doesn’t work,” because it does, and even they realize it.

And speaking of the initial rollout, let’s take a moment to dispose of the investigative report from the formerly-substantial journalistic entity known as Newsweek, now a mere shadow of its former self. Last week, Newsweek reporter Lynnley Browning wrote a lengthy “takedown” of last year’s exchange rollout, which asserted that state officials had “glossed over ominous warning signs and Keystone Cops-like planning.”

Er, that oughta be “Keystone Kops,” but whatever.

I’ll confess I didn’t read Browning’s opus. When I saw that the most notorious charge — that a July demonstration of the exchange website was faked by contractor CGI — was based on a single anonymous source, I’d had enough. Using a single anonymous source is a big fat journalistic no-no. Browning leans awfully heavily on this single unnamed person, as we see in this key passage:

In the demonstration, “a lot was left to the imagination,” says a person familiar with the event who declined to be named…  Some state staffers that July 26 thought it showed “live” registrations and enrollments by hypothetical consumers, when in fact static, premade screens were displayed. “People weren’t technologically sophisticated enough to understand what was actually going on,” this person explains.

CGI, the source adds, had one goal in that demonstration: It “wanted the state of Vermont to keep its faith.”

Everything in those two paragraphs is credited to a single anonymous source. Maybe this little reportorial transgression explains why Browning has taken the unusual career path of going from the New York Times, the nation’s leading newspaper, to Newsweek, a business that’s barely hanging on, and was famously sold in 2010 for the princely sum of $1.

In this week’s “Fair Game” column, Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz gives Browning and her story a thorough fluffing. Perhaps that’s because he, himself, has spent quite a bit of time waving the red flag over the exchange rollout, and, well, confirmation bias.

The other day I was chatting with a State House reporter who told me that this “faked demo” tale had been widely flogged to in-state political reporters by opponents of reform. The local scribes didn’t bite because they were well aware of who was selling this bill of goods, and they knew there was no corroboration or documentation of any of the charges.

So instead, somebody from outside the state, presumably clueless of the levers and gears of Vermont politics, swallowed the tale hook, line, and sinker.

Heintz reports that he was contacted by another anonymous source who also had doubts about the July demo — although how he knows that his source and Browning’s are actually different people is a mystery to me.

If the two unnamed sources are actually two people, which we have no way of verifying, I still question the ethics of Browning and Heintz in writing stories that were each based on a single anonymous source. Heintz had no way of verifying the bona fides of Browning’s source, so his story depends entirely on a single mystery guest. And again, those two anonymi could well be the same person.

Heintz (and Browning and Brock and Johnston et al.) still believes there’s a scandal waiting to be uncovered, and he chides the Vermont press corps for failing to uncover it. Not sure if he includes himself in that score; he’s one of them. And while he has repeatedly drawn attention to unanswered questions, he hasn’t done much to provide answers.

As for his unanswered questions and Browning’s unsupported allegations, to me it’s less likely a scandal and more likely a reasonable consequence of trying to launch an extremely complicated new system. Every major new government program has gone through growing pains. For that matter, a whole lot of private-sector launches have initial difficulties — or bomb completely. (New Coke, Edsel, the World League of American Football.) Yes, the exchange had a troubled beginning. But it’s working better every day.

And, the most important thing: it’s providing health insurance for thousands of Vermonters who couldn’t get it before.  

3 thoughts on “Health care reform: the failure that keeps on succeeding

  1. I’ve got to give it to Shumlin on this one point: once I got through all the software glitches, I managed to get myself enrolled before the end of November and am now actually SAVING money.

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