Lessons From Medicare Part D

Coconut Creek, UNITED STATES: Look! A Computer!

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Here’s a nice hit on Paul Krugman from a “conservative researcher” who, like a lot of people in this kind of game, is better at pointing out contradictions than at reaching a logical conclusion:

I think I was on book leave or something during the rollout to Medicare Part D and didn’t cover it much, but I recall having been more or less on board with the then-prevailing liberal idea that we were watching some kind of fiasco. And in retrospect, I guess we kind of were. But it also turns out to have basically not mattered. What you had were a lot of private firms with a strong incentive to get people to sign up for benefits, and you had a lot of senior citizens who once they did manage to get benefits were very happy about it.

The basic structure of the situation with the Affordable Care Act seems similar to me. I’ve referred to the technical problems with the ACA websites several times as embarrassing and gotten some pushback from angry liberals. But they are embarrassing. And I think that if you look at the very elegant basic design of the pages, you can tell that the staff at HHS and the White House set about to do something that far exceeded the typical person’s expectations of a government website. They wanted to prove the doubters wrong and have a product worth bragging about. They failed. But the basic lesson of Part D holds. Unless for some reason they’re unable to make any progress whatsoever over the next six weeks, these problems are not any kind of serious threat to the program. Seven years from now, nobody’s going to care about this stuff.