Mr. President, time for 'Fix It Panel'
by Bankole Thompson, Michigan Chronicle Senior Editor
November 20, 2013

First of all, to suggest that the failure of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is President Obama’s Katrina is a preposterous argument that is baseless at its core because the memory of Hurricane Katrina is a bad memory that would make you feel sick when you think of the woeful incompetence of former president George W. Bush when the levees broke that led to Katrina. Count­less numbers of people died in the storm, prison­ers drowned in their cells, families became homeless, children could not connect with their parents as many precious lives were shattered in the face of a Bush administration that did not show any sense of urgency in intervening.

The world watched in shock. Nations offered to help but an egotistical adminis­tration turned down the offers even as its people continued to suffer and die. Some are still haunted by the trauma of Katrina which chose a mass underclass of Blacks in New Orleans as its victims. So the health law cannot be compared. Katrina is only comparable to the terrorist attacks of Sep­tember 2001. Out of respect for the victims of Katrina, let’s stop the foolish comparative analysis.

But the truth is that the Obama adminis­tration messed up. President Obama admit­ted that in his press conference last week during which he shouldered responsibility for the ACA unveiling which turned out to be a blunder. The result has been utter frus­tration, anxiety, nervousness and confusion among consumers now finding themselves at the mercy of insurers and the news of how high a deductible is going to be.

But what is interesting up to now is that no individual or team has taken full re­sponsibility for what happened, except that Obama has been the one doing most of the apology and promising a new direction.

But who’s in charge, Mr. President? Who did you delegate to handle this rollout?

Yes, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to Detroit last week in a public relations move to instill confidence that the government is at work. It will take more than just a stop in Detroit to get the health website working. ­

Apparently, the White House and the entire might of the federal gov­ernment did not do what was supposed to be done: execute a well coordinat­ed rollout and achieve the maximum impact that the new law would have on people, just as Obama campaigned on it. Or better still, the way the Obama campaign diligent­ly and meticulously exe­cuted a massive strategy that had technology front and center and got people listening, contributing to the campaign website and connecting with the cam­paign.

Even though the feder­al government is bogged down in bureaucracy, and is not a 24hour campaign machine, that should not have stopped the White House from planning a rollout with the same effectiveness that the Obama campaign’s tech­nological team had.

The president should have appointed a high level panel charged with the responsibility of over­seeing the rollout and introducing them to the nation as the ones re­sponsible for the rollout.

That panel, among other things, should have ensured that the capac­ity of the website was such that it could meet the demands of a certain number of consumers —and that number should be in the millions — be­cause we have 30 million uninsured.

No excuses, a pres­idential panel ought to have the force, might and resources to carry out the most important domes­tic change in the last five decades in this country. More importantly, given that this is Obama’s do­mestic policy legacy, much detail and focus should have been placed on ensuring that the roll­out was so well executed that the president’s skep­tics were proved wrong and that his campaign theme promises were met.

I am unable to under­stand why and how the administration failed on this. We are still yet to know who in the White House was specifically in charge of this rollout.

The preeminence of common sense beckons on us that when some­thing of this magnitude is tied to your legacy or reputation, you want to ensure that all hands are on deck to make it right, with no room for major mistakes.

Obama has enough critics and detractors to force his administra­tion to not give them any reason to explain why their delegitimization campaign against him should hold water.

This blunder by the ad­ministration reminds me of Obama’s first televised debate with Gov. Mitt Romney, where he ap­peared drained and tired and uninterested in the issues, which made sup­porters of his re-election extremely nervous on the night of the debate.

During last week’s sudden media briefing, the president appeared bored as if he was un­familiar with the health law, as he struggled to ex­plain the flaws of the roll­out that is supposed to benefit millions who find themselves at the cross­roads of either a better insurance or a deductible they can’t even afford.

Let’s be clear. The in­tention of the law is to make health care afford­able. The moral ground for this is huge. No amount of criticism against the rollout or subterfuge can take that away.

But something must be done about a law that passed and mustered every legitimate test from the halls of Congress to the U.S. Supreme Court, so that it reaches its eventual goal: insuring the uninsured.

Some have said no need to make a big deal out of a website crash or the unending technical glitches the president said are being addressed. That in the words of Wil­liam Shakespeare this is “much ado about noth­ing.”

Well, it’s easy to say that if you are not the one on the computer shop­ping for health insurance every day, or receiving a deductible that is sever­al times higher than your mortgage or rent.

No matter how simple the glitches might seem, the consequences are sig­nificant. Because in ad­dition to the propaganda machine that is against implementing the new law, the administration has helped that very ma­chine in adding confusion to the ACA.

The Obama we know is one who executes almost flawlessly and does so for the bigger picture and for posterity. Even against the advice of some his advisors, the president pressed on the ACA and got it passed in Congress. The Supreme Court adju­dicated it and Obama ran on that for his re-election and won.

The final chapter of the long struggle of this new law was the rollout, which should have marked an era in government effi­ciency and less bureau­cracy. Instead, we were disappointed.

And with this dismal rollout, the White House subconsciously caved in to their critics, giving them more fuel for their propaganda against the law and the president.

On the merits of core competence, the new law deserved a presidential rollout, not the kind we’ve seen in recent weeks.

The president’s ap­proval ratings are tank­ing in the 40s and 30s. Beyond the politics of polling must lie an Obama who must move quick­ly to rescue his health care legacy by appoint­ing a team to address the existing and emerging problems, and eventually make this law successful­ly and lasting.

I recommend that Obama appoint a “Fix It Panel,” to further mitigate the damage of the rollout. I have no doubt anyone who receives a call from Obama to serve on such a “Fix It Panel,” would see it as an extraordinary honor to serve the nation after receiving a call from the 44th president of the United States.

For a start, here is how the president’s configura­tion “Fix It Panel” should look like.

Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and chair of the Democrat­ic National Committee who is a medical doctor, should serve on this panel. Dean, who some say should have been the Health and Human Services Secretary, is an outspoken supporter of the law. A hard-nosed progressive, he has been an advocate for a single- payer health plan. He knows the politics of the issue and understands the crucial patient-doctor relationship.

Nancy Schlichting, the CEO of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, a $4 billion organization and one of the largest healthcare companies in the country with 23,000 employees, should be on this problem-solving panel.

On a panel like this it is important to have some­one like Schlichting who is running a large health care system, not just technocrats, because she brings invaluable human relation experience, prag­matism and business management expertise to bear on this issue based on her knowledge of run­ning a massive health care system. It pays to see the perspective of the institutional health care providers, not just the professionals.

Dr. Patricia Berg, professor of biochemis­try and molecular med­icine at George Wash­ington University, where she directs the breast cancer research laborato­ry, would make a strong addition to the panel. In addition to developing vaccines, Berg has been a relentless advocate against government cuts in cancer research.

Dr. Berg has been pushing politicians in Washington, DC and state capitals to see and understand the impor­tance of saving lives with research.

Nurses everywhere are on the front lines of saving lives daily. If suc­cess of the law is pred­icated on the need for better health outcomes, not just processes, then nurses should be at the table.

Dorothy A. Obuya, a certified, registered rehabilitation nurse in Texas, a state that has been one of the strongest resistant blocks against Obamacare, would bring the perspective of thou­sands of nurses across the country who interface daily with patients.

Conversations around fixing the health law needs to go beyond the Washington punditry class to involve hands-on health care professionals like nurses.

The faith community is crucial to the success of the health law, as we’ve seen the tension between Catholic institutions and the Obama administra­tion over certain provi­sions of the law.

Hyepin Im, CEO of the Korean Churches for Community Develop­ment in California, who is already a presidential appointee to the Corpo­ration for National and Community Service, should be on the panel.

Im, who was at the White House last week for a meeting of faith-based leaders with the president, stands at the intersection between faith, family, politics and community development. The panel will also require a brilliant legal mind that understands how to navigate the media landscape on the most complex legal mat­ters relating to the vari­ous provisions of the law, and how they relate to the uninsured and under-in­sured.

Because, let’s face it, apart from the techni­cal issues with the ACA website, the law suffered media appreciation defi­ciencies (MAD).

Robert Beatty, a Flor­ida attorney understands what it will take to ne­gotiate with the media porcupines. A partner at Adorno & Yoss and former general counsel of the Miami Herald, Beat­ty’s experience in a state like Florida, whose politi­cal leaders are indifferent to the health care law, will prove helpful to the presidential panel.

Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epi­logue written by former White House spokes­man Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (De­troit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” round­table on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at bankole@bankolethomp­son.com and visit www.bankolethompson.com.