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Sun., July 14, 2013

Smart Bombs: Play fair on Obamacare

Warnings of a train wreck for the Obamacare Express take me back to the early days of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit that was tacked onto the health care plan for seniors (with the cost tacked onto the deficit).

That bill narrowly passed at the crack of dawn 10 years ago, as the scheduled 15-minute vote turned into three hours, which is how long it took House Republican leaders to complete their unprecedented arm-twisting session. One of the final converts was then-Rep. Butch Otter of Idaho, who initially held out because the new benefit wasn’t paid for (unlike Obamacare).

After President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, his administration undertook more than two years of planning and embarked on a promotional campaign that enlisted professional athletes to help spread the word. The opponents of the plan accepted defeat and did nothing to block implementation.

Still, it was a mess at first. People were leaving pharmacies angry and in tears. In a May 6, 2006, editorial about the impending deadline to sign up, we wrote:

“The Bush administration is resisting calls to extend the deadline and drop the fines, but it’s the government’s fault that the rollout of this new program has been so confusing. The January rollout was botched. Many seniors were confounded as they tried to match their shifting needs with a seemingly endless array of choices. Things have settled down some, but millions of seniors have yet to sign up. A Government Accountability Office audit of the feds’ outreach effort helps explain why. The GAO found hotlines dispensing erroneous information, an official Web site that was difficult to navigate and brochures and newsletters bogged down in technical jargon. …”

Eventually, the storm passed.

Today, congressional opponents of Obamacare actively seek ways to ensure its failure, and Republican-led states are dragging their feet on implementation. The latest effort is to attack the administration’s efforts to publicize the plan and educate the public. After hearing the administration was talking with the National Football League, congressional leaders fired off a letter urging the league to keep its distance. The NFL recently announced it won’t assist in any publicity campaigns. Major League Baseball has done the same.

Republican leaders in Congress say the rollout will be a train wreck, but they fail to note their efforts to loosen the tracks. Seniors enjoying cheaper prescription drugs are fortunate that politics didn’t derail their new benefit.

Sequestration at work. Eric Katz of the blog compiled a Top 5 list of suggested tongue-in-cheek “out of office” email replies submitted to a Facebook page by furloughed Defense Department workers. Without further adieu:

5) “I am currently furloughed and unable to respond to your email. If this were a weekend or a holiday I would respond to your email on my Blackberry, but federal employees are not permitted to use their BBs or perform any work on furlough days. Your national security is important to me. Please leave a message, and I will get back with you tomorrow.”

4) “Thank you for your message. Due to unexpectedly high volume of incompetence, intransigence and irresponsibility by the elected leadership of this great country, we are experiencing 20 percent delays. Please hold until a public servant is available to assist you. Your email will be answered in the order it was received. Thank you.”

3) “Furloughed! In case of emergency please contact the Senate Appropriations Committee at 202-224-7363 and request supplemental funding. I will return your call as soon as possible.”

2) “Today’s my furlough day. I am supposed to do 20 percent less work. You’ll find out on Monday whether your email is part of the other 80 percent.”

1) “It’s against the law for me to check my Blackberry today, so I’m going to the beach instead.”

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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