If House Republicans hadn't shutdown the government over a futile campaign to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, today's headlines would be about the troubled launch of the government's enrollment web portal. And the headlines would be ugly, very ugly, for the Obama administration.
Actually, they already are--it is just that the message has been overtaken by the government shutdown and debt ceiling debacle. Just take a look at what is being said about the Obamacare launch--by well-respected people who usually are supportive of the Obama administration and the ACA. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein calls it a "disaster" :
"So far, the Affordable Care Act's launch has been a failure. Not 'troubled.' Not 'glitchy.' A failure. But 'so far' only encompasses 14 days. The hard question is whether the launch will still be floundering on day 30, and on day 45."
Former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs called the launch "excruciatingly embarrassing" and suggested that someone should be fired:
“When they get it fixed, I hope they fire some people that were in charge of making sure that this thing was supposed to work,” said Gibbs. “We knew there were going to be glitches, right? But these were glitches that go, quite frankly, way beyond the pale of what should be expected.”
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart mocked the "team incompetent" responsible for the www.healthcare.gov website and grilled HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on why the ACA's individual insurance requirement shouldn't she be delayed.
Ouch, and this is from the administration's friends!
Mainstream press reports also have reported that the administration knew, or should have known, about the technology problems that have plagued the enrollment hub. The New York Times reports that in March, 2013 "the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them.
So here it is, just the 15th day of the launch of an unprecedented national effort to expand health insurance coverage to tens of millions of uninsured persons and to protect the rest of us from being dropped from insurance coverage or from going bankrupt because we get sick, and some already are ready to declare the ACA's launch a failure? Really?
To be clear, I share the frustration over the technology issues that are making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to sign up for coverage from the ACA's government portal. I think the administration's unwillingness so far to be forthcoming in explaining why the problems occurred, and what they are doing to fix them, is inexcusable, because it adds to the perception that they have something to hide or even worse, have no idea or plan to make the web portal work as intended. And, as I blogged last week, the technology problems--if not fixed soon--will pose a much bigger threat to the ACA than conservative Republicans' ham-handed efforts to defund or delay it.
So yes, it is concerning that the administration embarrassed itself by launching a not-ready-for-prime-time web portal. And yes, they got some explainin' to do. And yes, they need to have a clear and transparent plan, with clear deliverables, to fix it. And yes, the people in charge should be held accountable.
But let’s get real, the tech problems do NOT mean that the ACA is a failure. Not after just two weeks and one day from the date that the marketplaces opened. And not when there is almost six months left to go before the marketplace open enrollment period ends. Not when the problem isn't with the ACA itself--the subsidies, the guaranteed essential benefits, the price competition it creates between competing health plans, the limits on annual and lifetime limits on coverage, the benefits for preventive care at no cost to the patient, all of these are good and necessary reforms. Now we "just" need to get the technology fixed so the millions who will benefit from such reforms can avail themselves of them.
Today's question: Do you think after only 15 days, it is time to declare the ACA a "failure" because of the tech problems with its enrollment site?