Year 2

Ezra Klein reminds us that a year ago we were all obsessing about the Obamacare launch–well, to the extent we were not more focused on a government shutdown that momentarily obscured the launch’s problems.

Obamacare’s launch was a disaster. The site wasn’t down for a day, or a week. It was down for months. The Obama administration had built its most important initiative atop a cracked digital foundation. Worse, they were as shocked by the web site’s collapse as everyone else. The technological failure was a management failure: the bad news at the bottom had been hidden from the managers at the top. The launch of HealthCare.Gov will be a campfire story used to scare students in public administration classes for decades to come.

Once the government shutdown ended, the bad launch was the dominant political story for weeks, and then slowly but surely it lost steam because it just wasn’t true any more. As Klein reminds us again, the first full year of Obamacare hit most of its marks, despite the terrible start.

So now what?

Open enrollment begins again on November 15. It has to manage re-enrollment smoothly — which is something the HealthCare.Gov system has never tried before.

HealthCare.Gov also needs to make sure it’s easy for people to change their insurer. If the law is going to create the competitive markets it dreams of, it has to try to persuade customers to shop around every year, rather than just pick an insurance plan once and stick with it.

And, perhaps the biggest challenge for the Obama administration is convincing millions of people who sat out the last open enrollment period to sign up this year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that another 5 million will sign up for Obamacare in 2015. These 5 million new consumers will likely be a tougher sell: they had the chance to buy Obamacare in 2014 but, for whatever reason, decided they didn’t want it.

But compared to last year’s challenges, this doesn’t sound all that daunting. And at some point even Republicans may be forced to stop calling Obamacare a “failure.” The question is whether they will first be given the opportunity to make that “failure” a self-fulfilling prophecy by throwing sand in the gears or crippling the law more fundamentally.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.