According to Jeffrey Zients, President Obama’s advisor on the repair of the online federal health insurance marketplace, the team behind the repair of the Obamacare website has been “working with the velocity and discipline of a high-performing private sector company.”
Henry Chao seems to think differently. He is the chief digital architect for the federal website, and his testimony before Congress on November 19 suggests that up to 40 percent of the federal insurance marketplace is still under construction. “The back-office systems, the accounting systems, the payment systems” all still need work, said Chao. These functions are critical to the success of Obamacare as a whole. Without them, the federal marketplace will be unable to relay vital information regarding consumers to insurers. On December 20th, Mr. Obama boasted that over one million people have signed up for insurance through the federal and state exchanges. But website signups are not indicative of actual insurance signups.
Ever since the botched rollout of the website, Mr. Obama has been working to make the website more friendly for consumers. After spending no less that $700 million in taxpayer dollars for repairs, in some respects the website is improving: better appearance, decreased loading times, and fewer error messages, though some are still puzzled by the dysfunctional website. But unlike most “high-performing private sector” companies, the federal government has once again sacrificed quality for public approval.
Of course, the success of Healthcare.gov is partially dependent on how easy it is to use the website. But what’s the point in making a website easy to use if the federal government cannot handle the information it is taking in? Insurers across the county are getting calls from people asking for insurance cards because they think they have successfully signed up using the federal exchange. Little do these unsuspecting consumers know that the back end systems responsible for communicating with insurance companies have been underperforming from the beginning. Insurers report that they have been receiving consumer files with missing data, duplicate files, or no files at all. In some cases, insurers have not been informed of whether or not the government will be subsidizing a particular consumer’s premiums.
The concern is whether or not the government will pay insurance companies for those who were the first to sign up. After all, it appears that the government does not even know who actually signed up in the first place. What will happen when someone who thought they successfully signed up on the Obamacare website goes to the doctor, only to find out that the insurance company has no record of their enrollment?
Let’s take a step back. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that by November 12th, around 26,000 people enrolled in the federal exchange while 79,000 enrolled in the state exchanges. By the same date, nearly 5 million Americans had been dropped by their insurance companies.
We’re supposed to let the government regulate one of the biggest single sectors of the economy? When it cannot even operate a functional website? When insurers and consumers alike are left in the dark?
The Affordable Care Act must go, for the sake of affordable health care.
Terence Ford | Pennsylvania State University | @tford616