Back-End Blues

By RICK KLEIN ( @rickklein )

In the virtual waiting room, they don't serve political patience. Drones don't help deliveries there, either.

A deadline has come and gone, and a mixed bag is what we get: You can choose your version of success, or at least hit refresh while you're deciding.'s problems, though, have moved from the front end to the back end. It's harder to fix what you can't see - and harder to know what needs fixing if nothing seems amiss to those signing up for coverage.

(To update and renew - if you liked your plan, you could probably keep it. If you want a new plan, you can almost surely sign up for it now. And if you sign up for it, you're likely to actually get it?)

The insurance companies aren't sold on the fixes, and they sort of matter because they're the ones providing the coverage people assume they've been buying. But a wheezing Website is better than a crashing one, and so the White House has bought some time to make a new case that may sound like an old one, whether or not it's still called "Obamacare."


  • THE PITCH: At the White House at 2:30 pm today, President Obama launches a renewed push to tout the benefits of the new health care law, ABC's JONATHAN KARL reports. With the Website improving, the White House is now determined to remind people, again, why the law was passed in the first place - and to highlight the costs of undoing the law. The president will "focus attention back on the core principles of reform that have been lost in the attention on the website, and invoke the successes that are already flowing from the law and what it means for the millions of Americans who are already directly benefitting," per the White House backgrounder. "And he will make clear what the cost of repealing the law would be for these middle class families who have already begun to rely on these benefits."
  • THE EDGE: "There will be a political component to the president's message today, and his push that you will be seeing virtually every day for the next three weeks," Karl reported on "Good Morning America."
  • THE PRESS: "The White House will take the lead in emphasizing a different benefit each day until the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage," POLITICO's CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN and JONATHAN ALLEN report. "The fresh push is an attempt to get back to the game plan that Democrats wanted to pursue before the faulty website forced them into full-time damage control."
  • IT'S COMPLICATED - ABOUT YOUR ENROLLMENT: Obama administration officials acknowledged Monday that some of the roughly 126,000 Americans who completed the arduous online enrollment process in October and November might not be officially signed up with their selected issuer, even if the website has told them they are, ABC'S DEVIN DWYER and MARY BRUCE report. The so-called 834 forms that issuers receive from the system have been riddled with errors, including often duplicate or incomplete information. "Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage," said Karen Ignani, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans.
  • IT'S COMPLICATED - ABOUT THE MATH: "The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials," per THE WASHINGTON POST'S AMY GOLDSTEIN and JULIET EILPERIN. "The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies. The errors have been accumulating since opened two months ago, even as the Obama administration has been working to make it easier for consumers to sign up for coverage."
  • IT'S COMPLICATED - ABOUT YOUR DEADLINES: In the last few weeks, the Obama administration has changed the rules to let people keep their existing health insurance longer, delayed the open enrollment period for 2015 by one month, and extended the 2013 deadline for when individuals would have to enroll in order have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014. ABC's ABBY PHILLIP writes that, according Moody's bi-weekly credit outlook statement released Monday, the changes are "credit negative" for health insurance companies and could "expose the sector to additional financial and operational risks." Steve Zaharuk, senior vice president of the US insurance team for Moody's: "Insurance companies can deal with risk if they know the playing field. But when you keep changing the rules and adding more uncertainty into situation then it becomes even more risky and more difficult to deal with."
  • THE STAKES: Democratic strategist Al From tells us that Obamacare's problems could undermine Democrats' case for government. "It sure makes it a lot harder for people to support new government initiatives," From told me and YAHOO! NEWS' OLIVIER KNOX, in the latest episode of "Top Line." "And if it doesn't work, then good intentions are not enough."
  • THE SPIN: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether the fixes to the Website amount to "mission accomplished." "Using that phrase is not one I would employ," Carney told ABC's JONATHAN KARL. "We were able to make the necessary improvements to the Website so that the vast majority of Americans who use the Website have an experience in which the site functions effectively… It does not mean that there will be no problems with the Website going forward."
  • STILL TO COME: The president himself has not signed up for healthcare on the new exchange yet. "I know that he will and has said that he will," Carney said.
  • ACTION TODAY: "A federal judge in the District of Columbia will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in one of several cases brought by states including Indiana and Oklahoma, along with business owners and individual consumers, who say that the law does not grant the Internal Revenue Service authority to provide tax credits or subsidies to people who buy insurance through the federal exchange," THE NEW YORK TIMES' SHERYL GAY STOLBERG writes. "At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee will convene a hearing to examine whether Mr. Obama is 'rewriting his own law' by using his executive powers to alter it or delay certain provisions. The panel also will examine the legal theory behind the subsidy cases: that the I.R.S., and by extension, Mr. Obama, ignored the will of Congress, which explicitly allowed tax credits and subsidies only for those buying coverage through state exchanges."


More "TOP LINE" with AL FROM, the former Clinton hand and author of the new book, "The New Democrats and the Return to Power." On a Hillary Clinton run in 2016: "I would hope that if she decides to run, and I don't know whether she's going to run or not, that she would take the core principles … and offer solutions, new ideas, that deal with the problems and the challenges that we have in 2016 and beyond."

What's new is old: "There is a center in the country, and it's out in the country. You see it in governorships and really in both parties, and so it's possible to tap that," From said. "I really don't believe that we moved the country to the right or to the center. What I believed is we modernized what I would call liberal government."


CHRISTIE DENIES FLIP-FLOP. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie denied Monday that he flip-flopped on his position on an important immigration issue in his home state. The New Jersey Star-Ledger hit Christie in a scathing op-ed for pulling support for a bill that would grant in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. But Christie said he hasn't changed his position, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. "I said the legislature should move in the lame duck session towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period," Christie said at a news conference. "That's what I said. I didn't support any particular piece of legislation. And I still support tuition equality."

ABOUT THAT EDITORIAL: "If Gov. Chris Christie thinks voters won't notice if he promises one thing when he's running for governor, then another when he's running for president, he's dreaming," writes the STAR-LEDGER EDITORIAL BOARD. "Now that he's been re-elected with 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, he's backpedaling.

FOLLOW THIS? Christie is not supporting a non-candidate he didn't say definitely wasn't running for governor of New York. The new Republican Governors Association chairman said he was "stunned" to read reports that said he was ready to support Westchester County executive Rob Astorino for governor. "He has not said he's running for governor," Christie said of Astorino. "He didn't indicate to me that night that he was running for governor." More, per SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: "When Gov. Cuomo called me, to discuss other matters, and brought that issue up, I told him exactly what he related, which was, Rob Astorino never asked me for support, didn't say he was running for governor, nor did I pledge any support," Christie said.

BIDEN, ABROAD, on a mission: "Vice President Joe Biden urged Japan and China to establish for the first time basic measures to manage crises and build confidence as he kicked off a weeklong tour of East Asia with the mission of helping calm territorial tensions between the two Asian powers," YUKA HAYASHI reports for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Biden, to a print daily in Japan: "I believe this latest incident underscores the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis-management and confidence-building measures to lower tensions."

PANDA DIPLOMACY. As the US and China struggle to see eye to eye on the airspace regulation of the South China Sea, the countries' first ladies took to YouTube to address a subject that both counties can easily support: welcoming the National Zoo's newly named panda cub, Bao Bao. ABC's CHRIS GOOD notes that Panda Diplomacy - goodwill gifts of China's most prized animals - dates back to the Tang Dynasty. A little more recently, China presented President Nixon with Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, America's first celebrity panda couple, in 1972. Michelle Obama gushed panda praise, noting the presence of pandas in the National Zoo as "a symbol of the growing connections between our two countries." Her Chinese counterpart, First Lady Peng Liyuan hailed the young panda as a "testament to the closeness the Chinese and Americans feel at heart," according to subtitles.

ABOUT SMITH. Welcome back to a race in New Hampshire, Bob Smith, who wants his old Senate seat back (after running in Florida - inspiration for Scott Brown?). "He was rejected and thrown out of office … and I see very few folks who will rally to his tattered banner this time either," veteran New Hampshire hand Dave Carney tells ABC'S ALEX LAZAR, about Smith. "He is a craven free-media seeker and he will provide some comic relief but in the serious business of fielding credible candidates he does not fit into that equation." Said Fergus Cullen, a former state party chair: "His presidential candidacy in 1999 and his quitting of the party in a huff gave permission to establishment Republicans to abandon him, and they did."


DO NOTHING, GO HOME. "Congress' unfinished business threatens to leave millions of Americans - including the unemployed, Pentagon contractors and even supermarket shoppers - in the lurch this holiday season," the LOS ANGELES TIMES' LISA MASCARO reports . "An estimated 1.3 million Americans will lose federal emergency unemployment benefits after Christmas if the program is not renewed. … Without action, milk prices are set to skyrocket in the new year because the legislation plays a role in how some commodities are priced."

NOT QUITE NOTHING - MEET THE LEAST CONSEQUENTIAL NEW LAWS OF 2013. There's a section of IRS code named for a retired senator, more parking at a national historic site in North Dakota, and the "bean field property" in Mississippi, ABC'S NICKI ROSSOLL and JOAN E. GREVE report. Plus a law "To specify the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins."


@charlesornstein: I encountered error after error today in trying to use @HealthCareGov. My experience+screen shots:

@TheRickWilson: Biden is in Asia. Cue your weird uncle doing the Chinese imitation only he finds funny and muttering about the Yellow Peril.

@alexweprin: CNN president Jeff Zucker talks to @mikeallen and me about his plans for the channel. Including primetime:

@SamChampion: Thank YOU for all the love and tweets! I promise i will read each one. #itsAmazingOutThere !

@BenSherwoodABC: .@SamChampion on @GMA: "This place has a home in my heart." So do you Samuel J. @ABC wishes you the best with your new chapter.