Delay may be coming for health care law

When President Barack Obama spoke Monday to address problems with HealthCare.gov, the website that’s supposed to make it easy for people to sign up for Obamacare, many hoped he would offer a clear picture of how many people have actually purchased health insurance through the system and what exactly will be done to fix it.

Unfortunately, he offered little but platitudes and evidence of his own frustration.

The most surprising news from the White House came later, when Obama spokesman Jay Carney answered reporters’ questions. He hinted at the possibility of a delay in assessing penalties for the individual mandate if the system doesn’t improve.

“The law is clear that if you do not have access to affordable health insurance then you will not be asked to pay a penalty because you haven’t purchased affordable health insurance,” Carney said, according to CNN.

We’re not arguing that implementation of Obamacare should be delayed, although if problems in the system aren’t corrected soon — within the next month — it may become necessary.

Experts say those who don’t have insurance now will have to purchase insurance through the system by Feb. 15 to ensure they meet the March deadline to avoid any penalty. And, while Carney’s comments indicate there is some legal leeway in enforcing the penalty, Americans need to know before the March deadline whether they will be facing a penalty or not.

More public pressure to delay

Many Republicans, of course, are eager to see Obamacare delayed. After they were unsuccessful in getting the health care measure defunded in the recent budget dispute, delaying its implementation was their next option.

So, it comes as no surprise that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to introduce legislation soon to delay the measure.

But Republicans are hardly the only critics of the Obamacare rollout. Many supporters of the Affordable Care Act have denounced the website problems.

Consumer Reports, the nonpartisan group that evaluates everything from appliances to automobiles, offered readers tips on trying to maneuver through the balky healthcare.gov website. It added, “Stay away from HealthCare.gov for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made.”

Fixing the website

Exactly what will be required to “clean up the mess” is a matter of some debate. On Monday, Obama declared nobody was more frustrated than he was about the problems with HealthCare.gov, adding, “which means it’s going to get fixed.” But he gave no timeline for when that would be accomplished.

Estimates by experts contacted by news organizations range from several weeks to several months. One person familiar with the system said there are at least 5 million lines of code in the software for the website that must be corrected.

Whether that’s accurate is unclear, but we do know insurance companies last week were reporting they received inaccurate information for people who did manage to sign up for insurance at HealthCare.gov — spouses listed as children, incorrect ages and addresses and more.

Monday, the president urged people having trouble with the website to call a toll-free phone number to sign up, but reporters for several news outlets who tried the number said they were directed back to the website.

Not just the website

The president and his supporters are correct that there is much more to Obamacare than the problem-plagued website. And a Washington Post poll released this week indicated only a third of Americans want the law repealed, even if a majority disapproves of how the rollout was handled.

But unless the sign-up problems are fixed quickly — or full implementation is delayed — those difficulties could spell larger problems for Obamacare.

For one thing, public trust in the law and those who administer it will continue to deteriorate.

Even more serious is the fact that because signing up is so difficult, only those most seriously ill may be persistent enough to keep trying. But to work economically, Obamacare needs the young and healthy to also sign up. And the way things have been going, these tech-savvy folks may opt to pay the penalty rather than deal with a website that is far more difficult to use than Amazon or Expedia.


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Kudos to the Sentinel for its second timely editorial (“Delay may be coming for health care law”) chronicling the embarrassingly error-plagued “rollout” of the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) federal “health insurance exchange” website (see, “Obamacare rollout is reason for worry”).

Without proclaiming “I told you so!”, the Sentinel offers feint hope to those who would repeal, replace, de-fund, delay, and/or modify the ACA, that it will self-destruct on its own.  Don’t count on it.

While there are multiple technical reasons for the debacle – which will undoubtedly be painstakingly documented by the three Congressional committees scheduled to hold hearings – several explanations should already be obvious.

First, the ACA’s architects assumed – since it was originally a “conservative” proposal that applied “market driven” competition and “principles of federalism” to lower health care costs – that “red” states would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for their own citizens’ health insurance options.  Wrong!

Second, because 26 Republican-controlled “red” states entirely refused to cooperate with the ACA, Secretary Sebelius’ Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) became unexpectedly responsible for fielding a federal website covering 36 states – a workload for which it was neither adequately funded nor sufficiently staffed.

Third, consequently, various parts of the overall project were “outsourced” to multiple private contractors – exceeding DHS’s capacity to effectively oversee their work.

Fourth, because Massachusetts’ website had operated successfully for years, program managers underestimated the complexity of fielding 36 state-specific modules by the October 1 deadline – leaving insufficient time for adequate testing and succumbing to “wishful thinking”.

Yesterday, however, Ohio became the first of those 26 recalcitrant “red” states to reverse itself and accept Medicaid expansion funds – a hint that “ObamaCare” is here to stay.

Hopefully, President Obama’s “tech surge” of “whiz kids” will eventually resolve all “glitches” – even if “open enrollment” is extended another quarter.

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