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Obamacare and the Edsel: A Tale of Two Lemons

Bad ideas, worse rollouts, and unhappy customers.

By 10.14.13

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Last month, as the President, HHS Commissar Kathleen Sebelius, and their media toadies hyped the imminent launch of Obamacare’s dysfunctional insurance exchanges, few bothered to observe the 56th anniversary of “E-Day.” Don’t remember E-Day? This, believe it or not, was how the delusional leadership of Ford Motor Co. referred to the September 1957 rollout of another great American flop — the Edsel. That misbegotten vehicle, whose goofy name has long since become synonymous with “spectacular failure,” had much in common with Obamacare. Both were based on bad ideas, full of much-ballyhooed features that didn’t work, and were despised by the public.

The bad ideas for both boondoggles were hatched as little more than marketing ploys. “The idea for the Edsel,” as the Washington Post later reported, “came from Ford executives who were thinking about market niches when they should have been thinking about cars.” In the case of Obamacare, the idea came from campaign aides looking for a catchy sound bite that could be used by an obscure Illinois Senator running for President. He needed to say something about an issue to which he hadn’t given much thought. Thus, without any serious policy discussion, they suggested that he simply announce his intention to pass universal health care by the end of his first term: “Thus was born Obamacare.”

In both cases, the hype continued to receive far more attention than the development of the product. Edsel was already a household word before there was a car upon which to rivet the name. A mere three months before the its debut, the paucity of photos showing the entire Edsel forced Newsweek to run a lead story with a cover that showed only a wheel and part of its front bumper. Likewise, the basic elements of Obamacare remained a mystery even as it was debated by congressmen and Senators who obviously hadn’t read the bill. This horrifying reality was forever memorialized by Nancy Pelosi when she advised the American people, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it.”

All of this might have been forgiven if either of these products had lived up to the hype. Sadly, neither came close. The American consumer knows a lemon when he sees one. And, despite the fanfare with which both were introduced, the Edsel and Obamacare had clearly been produced in citrus groves. The Edsel, when it was finally unveiled, proved to be a profoundly ugly automobile. Its most notable physical attribute was a grill that bore an unmistakable resemblance to a toilet seat. Obamacare, for its part, came with the individual mandate, the Soviet-style Independent Payment Advisory Board, and a list of new taxes that exceeded the worst fears of its most ardent opponents.

Even worse, neither the Edsel nor Obamacare worked properly. The former, as the Post went on to report, had mechanical problems that transcended its aesthetic shortcomings: “Oil pans fell off, trunks stuck, paint peeled, doors failed to close and the much-hyped ‘Teletouch’ push-button transmission had a distressing tendency to freeze up.” Likewise, the wheels came off Obamacare as soon as it was rolled out. Its most conspicuous failure has, of course, been HealthCare.gov. One software professional who supports Obamacare put it thus: “Unfortunately, what should be a simple process is a complete software technology disaster.… It appears the people who built the site don’t know what they’re doing.”

Even Obama’s lickspittles at the New York Times have been shocked by the incompetence with which the software for Obamacare’s “insurance marketplace” was written: “For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in.” And, despite the lies told to Congress by Commissar Sebelius to the effect that the exchange technology was on track for a successful debut, “Confidential progress reports from the Health and Human Services Department show that senior officials repeatedly expressed doubts that the computer systems for the federal exchange would be ready on time.”

Obviously, the Ford Motor Co. and the Obama administration demonstrated exceptionally poor judgment in launching their respective lemons without fixing such conspicuous glitches. But, incredibly, they committed yet another and arguably worse blunder. Both attempted to foist their boondoggles on the public during very sluggish economic times. When the Edsel was rolled out, the country was entering the recession of 1957, which predictably dampened consumer appetite for all big-ticket items. And, when the President and the Democrat-controlled Congress proposed spending $1 trillion on Obamacare, we were in the depths of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

All of which guaranteed that the general public would reject both shoddy products. But the difference in Ford’s response to its failure to attract buyers and the reaction of the Obama administration to its failure to win over the public is telling. As reported in this 1959 edition of Time, Ford eventually faced reality: “The company dropped its medium-priced Edsel.… ‘Retail sales have been particularly disappointing, and continued production of the Edsel is not justified.’” The Obama administration, on the other hand, has reacted to public disapprobation with Obamacare by ignoring it. The President and his minions remain determined to force feed their lemon to an unwilling electorate.

This difference in reactions to failure dramatically highlights the primary reason for repealing Obamacare and replacing it with market-based reform. As the Edsel flop demonstrates, businesses in the free market are quite capable of making colossal mistakes. However, when they do so and the customer rejects their products, they make the necessary adjustments. And, despite the widely believed myth that the market fails to work for health care, any private enterprise that had produced an unpopular mess like Obamacare would by now have shut it down. But the President won’t even consider delaying it. Why? Because his customers are required by law to avail themselves of his third-rate services.

Whereas the potential buyers of the Edsel simply grimaced when they finally saw the thing and walked out of the showroom, the President and his congressional accomplices have arranged for you to be fined if you refuse to buy their ugly, overpriced, and dysfunctional product. The only way to avoid buying and paying for Obamacare is to fire the people who conceived the bad idea and fouled up its implementation. That’s what elections are for. November 2014 offers a good opportunity to start cleaning house.

Photo: Creative Commons

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About the Author

David Catron is a health care revenue cycle expert who has spent more than twenty years working for and consulting with hospitals and medical practices. He has an MBA from the University of Georgia and blogs at Health Care BS.