How to Sneak a Looming 'Train Wreck' Past the GOP

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Republicans aren't to blame for the glitchy site, but federal administrators were so worried about the GOP attacking the healthcare law that they implemented in under a veil of secrecy. As The Washington Post reported this weekend, officials delayed key regulations and orders to circumvent possible Republican opposition. "You’re basically trying to build a complicated building in a war zone, because the Republicans are lobbing bombs at us," an anonymous White House official told the Post. Following that logic, is like skyscraper built in secrecy and missing an elevator. The administration managed to keep details hidden from Republicans, but also from everyone else. 

Don't mention the 'scope of work'

The undisclosed detail: In Spring 2011, a lot of states—34—declined to create their own exchanges for individuals. The White House kept that from the contractors building the site. In September 2011, when the administration issued the "scope of work" specifications of the main site, they didn't actually know the scope of the work (how many states they'd be supporting), according to the Post

How the GOP would have used it against them: One former White House official said the administration was concerned that "Republicans would seize on it as evidence of a feared federal takeover of the health care system." 

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The result: The Republicans didn't find out how big the federal exchange would be until December 14, 2012, the deadline for states to notify the federal government of their intention to run an exchange. Neither did anyone else. 

No diagrams

The undisclosed detail: Officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wanted to publish "concepts of operation" diagrams which would have explained to states what a federal exchange would look like. According to the Post, the White House thought the diagrams were too complicated, and would be mocked the way Bob Dole mocked the complexity of diagrams presented during a task forced led by Hillary Clinton back in the 1990s. Eventually the White House said no.

How the GOP would have used it against them: Some Republican upstart would have made fun of the concepts, possibly implying that the exchanges would be a complicated experience. 

The result: No Republican was able to brandish any confusing-looking diagrams to mock the health care law. At the same time, several Republican governors, the ones who didn't allow state-run exchanges, said they declined because the administration failed to answer key questions about how the whole thing would work. "Despite repeated requests for information, we have not had any clear direction or answers from Washington until recent days," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told The New York Times. Also:

In Tennessee, state officials did a huge amount of planning for a state-run exchange. But Gov. Bill Haslam announced this week that he had decided against the idea because the Obama administration had failed to answer numerous operational questions.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey cited similar concerns in vetoing legislation to establish a state-based exchange last week.

“New guidance continues to trickle out of Washington at an erratic pace,” Mr. Christie said.

The "concepts of operation" diagrams wouldn't have helped much, but the fact that we never saw them points to a bigger issue. 

Wait until after major elections

The undisclosed detail: The essential benefits. What are they? No one knew for sure until they were finalized in February of this year. According to the Post the White House "slowed down important regulations that had been drafted within CMS months earlier, appearing to wait until just after Obama’s reelection." 

How the GOP would have used it against them: If you've ever seen an Obamacare horror story where men and post-menopausal women complain about maternity care, then you already know. 

The result: The GOP was not able to criticize the superfluousness of silly things like maternity care and mental health services prior to the 2012 election. They had to wait until this fall, when people started getting cancellation letters because their plans didn't offer the 10 essential benefits. 

Fingers crossed your detractors don't subpoena embarrassing stuff

The undisclosed detail: Now we're left wondering how many people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. 

How the GOP would have has used it against them: Last week the House Oversight Committee, led by Republican Darrell Issa (who, on October 9, said "Basically, HHS has screwed this whole thing up" and subpoenaed Kathleen Sebelius ) released the most embarrassing Obamacare statistic to date: Only six people signed up for healthcare on October 1. 

The result: We'll find out after March 31, 2014, when the open enrollment period is over. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.