There are mixed reports, but overall it sounds like healthcare.gov is working. The administration rushed to be able to show improvements by December 1 and concentrated on the front end–the experience of consumers shopping for insurance. The back end, or information sent on to insurance companies, still needs more work, and this is where most of the reports of continued problems are coming from.
On Monday most of the reports I heard were from either Obama administration sources discussing successes or from Republicans who were claiming defeat, reading from a script which could have been written a couple of weeks ago without regard for the changing facts. Therefore it was good to see more objective sources begin to weigh in. For example, Consumer Reports, which was critical of the early faults, now gives a favorable review to the site, at least on the front end:
After advising consumers to steer clear of Healthcare.gov in October, Consumer Reports health care expert Nancy Metcalf told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Tuesday morning that the federal health care exchange website was improved enough following the Obama administration’s frantic month of repairs that users could confidently use it.
“Now we’re saying, ‘it’s time,’” Metcalf said, in particular praising the new window-shopping function, in which users can peruse health plans without registering with the site. The requirement to make an account before viewing options was considered one of the main causes for the site’s initial traffic bottleneck. “It’s terrific, I’ve tried it, it was working yesterday through the busiest times,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf stopped short of saying the website was fixed, noting that she was endorsing using it in the context of the short window customers have to access the site, and, more importantly, the subsidies available through it, in order to purchase insurance that takes effect on January 1. Metcalf warned that consumers had no control over the back-end problems, which are giving inaccurate information to insurance providers, and said that if you enroll through Healthcare.gov and don’t hear from your new provider within a week, your best bet is to contact the insurer directly.
Personally I plan to circumvent the back-end problems, which most likely will be fixed, by purchasing directly from the insurance company’s web site–which is another possibility. (This might not be possible for those also applying for subsidies.) One of the mistakes made in the roll out of the Affordable Care Act was to put such a heavy emphasis on purchasing through the government web site. In retrospect it would have made more sense to promote the site as just one of several ways to purchase insurance, especially in red states which failed to create state exchanges. I did find healthcare.gov to be of value, even in October, as a means of comparing what is available.
Many things about the Affordable Care Act are far from perfect. What is important is not a comparison to a perfect system but to compare the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to the problems with health care coverage in the past. The Affordable Care Act has been highly successful when considered on that basis. The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are now starting to concentrate on selling the Affordable Care Act based upon its benefits. Politico reports:
President Barack Obama will launch a coordinated campaign Tuesday by the White House, congressional Democrats and their outside allies to return attention to why the Affordable Care Act passed in the first place.
After two months of intense coverage of the botched HealthCare.gov rollout, the president will host a White House event kicking off a three-week drive to refocus the public on the law’s benefits, senior administration officials told POLITICO.
The White House will take the lead in emphasizing a different benefit each day until the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. The daily message will be amplified through press events and social media by Democratic members of Congress, the Democratic National Committee, congressional campaign committees and advocacy organizations, officials said.
These are the important arguments, and the benefits will undermine any further Republican attempts at repealing Obamacare:
“The consequences of Republican repeal are exactly the case that we need to be making — because Republican repeal would take us backward to a broken system that hurts too many Americans — like forcing millions of seniors to pay $1,200 more for their prescription drugs,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Every poll tells us that when we make that case, voters choose Democrats.”
On Wednesday, the White House and Democratic allies will focus on how Americans are paying less for preventative care under Obamacare. On Thursday, they’ll highlight that people with preexisting conditions can no longer be charged more or denied coverage. And on Friday, they’ll emphasize the slowing growth in health care costs.