When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in 2005, it was a disaster on a scale that hadn't been seen in American history. Until now. The avalanche of Obamacare failures and flubs that began on October 1 mirrors — almost eerily! — literally everything that happened in the wake of that storm.
It's worth pointing this out because, in the wake of The New York Times' front page article drawing an analogy between Katrina and Obamacare, some (mostly liberal) outlets have rejected the comparison. Slate's Matt Yglesias thinks that Katrina's death toll is a distinguishing factor. Esquire's Charlie Pierce rejects it out of hand. Talking Points Memo uncharitably suggests that the former Bush staffers that offered the analogy might have ulterior motives.
But the Times and the Bushies were right. Here's how they comparely overlap, a one-circle Venn diagram of failure, traceable back to the Chief Executive.
Both failures were completely foreseeable and foreseen by experts.
In the days leading up to Katrina making landfall, government scientists using satellites were able to make predictions about the storm's path, where it was likely to strike, and its strength when that happened.
For years, Republicans played the role of those scientists on Obamacare. Using science, they outlined exactly how Hurricane Obamacare would land and the damage it would do. Last week, Townhall.com reviewed that scientific analysis, presented by Sen. Mike Enzi in 2010. "No, Enzi’s not a psychic," they write. Neither were those weather scientists.
As the storm approached (the Obamacare storm, that is), the warnings multiplied. The administration was warned and warned. Government documents that Reuters acquired indicate that a contractor thought issues with the Healthcare.gov site could "crash the plane at take-off." (Weirdly, Hurricane Katrina also threatened to crash planes, if planes flew through it, which they didn't.)
Healthcare.gov was when the levees broke.
Then, the storm hit. When October 1 rolled around, no one was paying attention to Obamacare's worst effects, being otherwise distracted by the shutdown — itself an attempt to prevent the storm from making landfall (is that the right analogy? I'm losing track). But soon the deluge couldn't be ignored. Just as the government-made levees couldn't handle all of the water in New Orleans, the government-made Healthcare.gov website couldn't handle all the traffic.
Obama behaved exactly like President Bush.
When the scale of the emergency became clear in New Orleans, George W. Bush was nowhere to be found, out in California playing the guitar and otherwise doing nothing about the problem. For the first few days of the Obamacare storm, Obama didn't do anything either, except work on trying to end the shutdown and the other things that he had to deal with in Washington, D.C.
At no point did President Obama go to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Healthcare.gov, and look at the overheated servers and code and what-have-you. Just as Bush ignored cries for help from people who'd lost homes after the storm, Obama ignored the error logs from the website, letting them issue their error 404s and error 500s into the blank void of an unseen hard drive.
Then, when he did act, it was too little. As Bush flew over the damage from Katrina, telling the world how concerned he was about the invisible people below, Obama only paid lip service to fixing the real problem: the levees. I mean: the website. Or, I guess: the people trying to sign up for service. All three.
Kathleen Sebelius is FEMA Director Michael Brown.
The man responsible for crafting a response on behalf of the government in 2005 was Michael Brown, an unknown administrator whose previous employment was with the International Arabian Horse Association. (That's true.) Sebelius' pre-Health and Human Services Department employment was similarly obscure, running a small state called "Kansas."
On October 15, two weeks after the levees broke (reminder: that's the Healthcare.gov rollout), Obama's spokesman indicated that Sebelius still had the "full confidence" of the president, a gaffe no less memorable than Bush's telling Brown(ie) that he was doing a "heckuva job."
It is also possible that Brown is like the poor Healthcare.gov woman, who was the face of the problem that no one had seen or knew much about, and then was bullied for the rest of her life.
Obamacare's Superdome is the fake exchanges.
Remember the Superdome in the aftermath of Katrina? It was a huge, scary stadium where people looking for safety were trapped to be murdered and assaulted and "go to the bathroom" in the dark. Much of that, it turns out, didn't happen, but it's still symbolic.
And it is exactly like how fraudsters are trying to corral and exploit people looking for health care plans. We reported on the fraudulent Obamacare offerings earlier, attempts to fool people into paying money for plans that don't have all of the features of legit programs. Others have noted that there are websites meant to replicate official state exchanges, where people might turn over their information to scammers. Here, too, there's not much evidence that this has happened, but that is what makes the analogy work.
But imagine someone sitting in their living room and clicking on what they thought was a legitimate Obamacare website on their Macbook, only to discover that it wasn't! Is this any less terrifying than being forced out of your home with no food or water for days on end, never to see your belongings again? No, it is not.
Those Convention Center cries for help? The people who have to upgrade their healthcare policies.
In the wake of Katrina, thousands were shuttled to the New Orleans Convention Center, which quickly became a focal point of organized protest among survivors. It was at the Convention Center that the media encountered hundreds of people demanding that they'd been left behind by the government, insisting that they deserved better treatment and access to food and water.
In the case of Obamacare, those poor, stranded individuals are the people who are losing health insurance that didn't have enough coverage to meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act. Yes, those plans often cost more, as we've noted, but that's part of the plan to bring down costs overall. But tell that to those unfortunates who received letters canceling their plans! Do they feel any more love from the government than those people in New Orleans? Maybe; it's hard to say. Let's say no.
The poor were left to weather the storm by themselves.
Before Katrina hit, the city issued a mandatory evacuation notice. That didn't do much good for people who didn't have cars. Public transit wasn't much good for getting out of the storm's path, and seats on out-of-town buses filled quickly, even if people had some place to go.
Louisiana, we will note, has chosen not to expand federal Medicaid protection for the poor in its state. And that, my friends, is what is known as an "apt analogy."
The New Orleans law enforcement officials that murdered people are exactly like Obamacare navigators.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans police officers shot and killed evacuees trying to cross a bridge, then covered up the killings by trying to insinuate that they were justified in doing so. Five officers were convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison, though the convictions were recently overturned.
This is analogous to the "navigators" established under the Affordable Care Act, who are trusted by the public to ensure their health safety. But the public can't really trust them, Republicans argue, which is why Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is promoting a bill that would require they get background checks. (He opposed expanding background checks for gun sales, by the way.) Have any of these navigators violated the law, killing people who are just trying to sign up for health insurance? Possibly. It is possible. Maybe indirectly?
Which brings us to Yglesias' point:
Obamacare's death toll may already surpass Katrina's.
It all depends on what you consider a "death." Certainly, any number of insurance policies have been cancelled since they don't meet the standards of Obamacare. Some businesses (though not as many as claimed) have cut back employee hours to avoid having to provide them with insurance. Sen. Ted Cruz has repeatedly argued that Obamacare is killing the economy, and he's a senator, so he would know.
Yes, 1,833 people died in the wake of Katrina. But if corporations are people, which they are, aren't insurance policies? Isn't the economy?
Like Katrina, Obamacare ruined something great, a national treasure.
Before the storm hit, New Orleans was a jewel, a city rich with history and culture and stunning architecture that preserved an era of American history in a way no other city could capture. The music. The food. The revelry. All of it was significant and essential. Then, in a matter of a week, it was crippled, sodden, ruptured. It's people had scattered and its status as a great American city lost — at least for a while.
The scariest thing about Obamacare is that it threatens similar damage to something we all love and respect: an ever-more-expensive private health insurance system in which people can be excluded from essential coverage based on existing medical conditions and in which the possibility of complete economic collapse stemming from a serious injury is ever-present. If Obamacare were to damage that, then calling this Obama's Katrina doesn't go far enough. Then, it would become his Watergate.
All pictures from Reuters.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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