This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," December 13, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the White House releases new ObamaCare enrollment numbers but not the ones that really matter. If the law is finally working, why the secrecy?
Plus, a bipartisan budget accord averts another government shutdown but angers some conservatives. Was it the best deal Republicans could get?
And if you thought the IRS targeting scandal was over, think again. We'll tell you about the agency's latest efforts to silence Tea Party groups.
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
The White House released new ObamaCare enrollment numbers this week, boasting four times as many federal exchange signups in November as in the previous month. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee Wednesday that over 364,000 Americans have now enrolled in the federal and state health insurance exchanges, a number that several Republicans on the committee questioned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Of these 364,000 Americans, do you know how many of those individuals will actually have coverage in effect on January 1, 2014?
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Once they pay their premium, they'll have coverage in effect.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: So you don't know that these are the ones who just selected a plan but haven't paid their first payment on their premium?
SEBELIUS: Some may have paid, some may have not. We're giving you the enrollment numbers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Joe Rago; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.
So, Joe, that was a pretty telling exchange between Secretary Sebelius and the committee. Are we getting the accurate figures?
JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. What they were talking about is the industry standard for determining when somebody has enrolled in a health care plan. HHS has invented its own standard to say, if you've selected a plan on the exchange, that's what counts.
If they really wanted to shed light on how enrollment is going, they would say whose signing up, what their demographics are, what their health status is, what plans they're signing up for, and what their goals are over time.
GIGOT: So that 364,000 figure is only the people who actually have enrolled in the front end of the exchange, not people who may actually get coverage?
RAGO: That's right. They haven't paid their premium yet, potentially. There's very low numbers I'm hearing from the industry, in the nature of maybe a quarter of people have paid so far. And --
GIGOT: A quarter of those who have supposedly signed up?
RAGO: That's right. So the real figures could be substantially lower, especially when you build in the errors and duplication that the exchanges are sending the industry.
GIGOT: And that payment, the writing of the check is a big event because a lot of people enroll in insurance but then when you actually have to sign up, they say, well, that price is pretty expensive, I don't think I'll do that.
RAGO: Right. They're used to the automatic deductions of the employer-sponsored market. They're facing much more out-of-pocket costs than they ever expected.
GIGOT: Kim, what -- how do you explain this reluctance to really come clean by HHS and just fess up? They've had the debacle now for a couple months. You'd think they'd say, we're going to be transparent, let's get it all out on the table. Why not?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Because in the administration's mind -- and they're probably right on this -- this is balancing on a knife edge, OK? There is all this. They manage to quell a little bit of the furor in Congress by setting this deadline of November 30th when the website was supposed to function again. But if these stories continue to roll in, Paul, about people losing their doctors, losing their networks, not signing up, what's going to happen, their members are going to go home at Christmas and they're going to come back in January renewed to -- again, Democrats began calling for changes. The administration is trying to avoid this. And their answer to it is just create a black box around this program and release no information.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: You know, what's interesting, Paul, you just mentioned being transparent. In the private sector, in the corporate world, this kind of goes back to the Tylenol -- some tainted Tylenol scandal about 25 years ago. It is a rule of thumb that if you have a big problem like this, you have to put out all the information you can. You cannot hide stuff, because the public won't believe you. And you'll be discredited.
GIGOT: Or stop buying Tylenol.
HENNINGER: They'll stop buying Tylenol.
GIGOT: Your stock price will fall off a cliff.
The administration is doing precisely the opposite. This is state-of- the-art public relations and they're doing state-of-the-art public non- relations. So the program is losing support. It's been shown in the polls. 50 percent of the insured in the "Wall Street Journal" poll said they think ObamaCare is a bad idea now.
GIGOT: Joe, new rules issued on Thursday by the administration are also telling, because they delay some of the implementation of ObamaCare. Tell us.
RAGO: What they say is the insurers are supposed to back-date coverage to January 1st whenever they figure out that maybe somebody's enrolled in their plan or whenever that beneficiary happens to pay. It also tells the insurers to treat out-of-network doctors as in-network doctors for the time being and threatens them -- threatens to kick the insurers off the exchanges if they don't comply. I think when we're talking about public relations here, they're terrified that somebody who thinks they have coverage, through no fault of their own, will go to their doctor and find out they're no longer covered or have some expensive medical condition.
GIGOT: But, Joe, that sounds like a tacit emission that this whole thing should have been delayed another year because they just weren't ready. I mean, they're essentially -- what you're describing is waiving the rules they imposed.
RAGO: Right. When you're trying to regulate the time/space continuum, you have a major problem on your hands.
GIGOT: Kim, we have a new poll this week, the NBC/WSJ poll that showed -- I think they asked ObamaCare, good idea or bad idea. 34 percent only said good idea. 50 percent said bad idea. So this doesn't look like it's improving for the administration.
STRASSEL: No, it's not. You know, this is why you see the clampdown on information. Some of the other news we had this week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa sent a note to Kathleen Sebelius saying, look we're trying to get information from the contractors who messed this up and, apparently, you're telling them not to give documents to us. That could be an obstruction of justice. So we've got HHS telling contractors not to cooperate with Congress. You've got them sitting on all of this data. Then, on the excuse part, too, it's fascinating. The other thing Sebelius did this week is come out and say, oh, I'm going to ask the inspector general of HHS to do an investigation into what went wrong here, as if that's in any doubt.