Obamacare Is No Katrina

Two very different presidents, two very different issues.

Hurricane Katrina is not a metaphor. The devastation of the 2005 storm, and the failed government preparation and response, was a bureaucratic catastrophe that cost 1,833 souls their lives.  Yet, conservatives and even The New York Times have have jumped on the Healthcare.gov rollout woes as “Obama’s Katrina.” They are not only off base, but they are disrespecting the families and victims who lost so much to that tragedy.

A glitchy website that delays enrollment for health insurance is not the same thing as a bungled response to a natural disaster where you failed to even get water to people in need.  No one died because they weren’t able to create an Obamacare log-in on the state or federal exchange website.  Coverage doesn’t begin until January 1st, so all things considered the rollout mess is much more a political stumble, than a policy one.  Furthermore, when Americans can finally go to the doctor and dentist on January 1st, that website is going to be the very last thing on their minds. 

And the Healthcare.gov rollout isn’t the first time conservatives have jumped to call something “Obama’s Katrina.”  As New York;s, Jonathan Chait wrote last week, “The Obamacare rollout is merely Obama’s most recent Katrina according to his critics, following in the wake of previous ‘crisis’ that were awarded the comparison to the deadly hurricane. 

Chait cites, “the Gulf Oil spill, the 2009 swine-flu outbreak, the humanitarian disaster in Haiti, the General Motors bailoutHurricane SandySyria, and the now-forgotten springtime scandal...If every one of Obama’s Katrinas were an actual Katrina, America as we know it would long since have ceased to exist and we’d be living in a watery post-apocalyptic hellscape.”

The botched response to Hurricane Katrina is a defining moment of the Bush presidency that crystallized much of the ongoing theme during the Bush years: that Obama’s predecessor and the Republican Party were simply not up to the task of handling the basic functions of government.  By comparison, the healthcare website issues are but an inconvenience on the way to something that will improve the lives of millions of Americans.

Private sector companies with tech issues aren’t accused of “management failures” when a particular product doesn’t operate perfectly from day one.  Is Twitter a failure because it crashes from time to time?  Of course not.  Most people know that glitches happen and they aren’t organizing to storm Twitter’s headquarters at the first site of the #failwhale.  Having seen no evidence that the government has decided to simply ignore these issues---quite the opposite, as they have been working to fix the problem and publicly apologetic for the trouble­­­---to call this rollout a ‘management failure’ speaks to a desire to malign and insult the president.

Obamacare will fundamentally change the lives of millions of Americans, including millions of Black people who are among the chronically uninsured, and will lower healthcare costs for everyone down the road because the uninsured won’t need to go to the emergency room for routine visits. The expansion of Medicaid---which 400,000 people have already signed up for--and the millions who will eventually sign up for health care before the final deadline on March 31, 2014, will finally be secure.  Americans will finally be able to go to the doctor and will have no worry that the bill that arrives after their visit will force them into bankruptcy.  And they will have President Obama and the Democrats to thank for that. 

Hopefully, we’ll remember that and not a few weeks of cyber frustration, when we head to the polls for midterm elections.