Monday, October 21, 2013

There is so much good in the Affordable Care Act, and I am confident it will have lasting value for the country.  There is an undeniable and important need for people to have health insurance and not be subject to arbitrary decisions by insurers about pre-existing conditions, coverage limits, and the like.  And those, after all, are the main features of the law.  But sometimes I wonder if the President has speechwriters who understand about the sound bites the media are likely to pick up-- words that distract people from those attributes of the law.  Here's the portion of his remarks that I heard over and over on the radio after his speech about the computer problems with the health care exchange:

There's no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody's more frustrated by that than I am. Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work, I want the checkout lines to be smooth, so I want people to be able to get this great product. 

Nobody's more frustrated by that than I am.

With respect, sir, no one is concerned about your frustration. This is a time to show empathy to the thousands of people who have been through the unsuccessful interactions with the federal exchange system. 

I want the cash registers to work.

OMG, what a terrible metaphor! This is not a time to portray health insurance as just another internet product, nor the federal government as an entity solely concerned with taking your money.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Clark, Senior Quality Editor at HealthLeaders Media, noted the tin ear of the bureaucracy on her Facebook page:

In case you missed it, last night embattled sent this message. Note the "easier than ever" qualifier.

From HHS spokesperson Joanne Peters: "As part of our ongoing efforts to make improvements every day, new content is being featured on in response to user feedback. It's now easier than ever to preview plan information, access a downloadable application form and find in-person help in local communities. We're giving users more information to make the decision that's right for them about how to apply and enroll in affordable health coverage."

This was an administration that was so good at messaging during its election campaigns. I really wish they would get better at it while governing. The stakes are very high.


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