Experts predict that the federal government has about a month to get Healthcare.gov in fighting shape if it wants to get 7 million people enrolled in its first year, Reuters reported on Monday. Users are still experiencing issues with the federal exchange, which puts enrollment numbers at risk and gives Republicans more reason to say the law should have been delayed.
While state-run exchanges have been running relative smoothly and enrolling thousands, the federal government, which runs exchanges for 36 states, has declined to say how many individuals have enrolled in insurance plans. Anonymous sources in the Department of Health and Human Services told the Daily Mail that there were just 51,000 completed applications during the program's first week. That's not a lot (at that rate it would take over two years to enroll 7 million) but that also means at least 51,000 people eagerly signed up for insurance plans that won't take effect until next year.
Though the federal site is starting to identify and solve its problems, including introducing a very basic plan estimator, people on both sides of the aisle are fed up. "I hope they're working day and night to get this done," Robert Gibbs, President Obama's former press secretary, told MSNBC yesterday. "And 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."
Beyond being a tool to help millions of uninsured Americans enroll in healthcare, the Affordable Care Act is a high stakes political statement. As we mentioned on Monday, part of the reason the roll out of the site wasn't delayed was because the administration worried it would give detractors more reason to doubt the program. And now they're doubting.
"Obamacare's Website Is Crashing Because It Doesn't Want You To Know How Costly Its Plans Are," Forbes' Avik Roy argues on Monday. Perhaps a more accurate headline would be "Obamacare's Website Is Crashing Because of a Bottleneck Caused by the Registration Process, Because Federal Officials Wanted Users To See What Subsidies They Qualify For When They See Plan Prices, But They Should Have Followed the State Exchange Model, Which Lets You See Your Subsidies and Plans Before You Register." But, you know, that's a little long. This afternoon, though, Robert Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates made a similar argument in the Washington Post. "I think what happened was when they designed their system they were so paranoid about [scaring people off with pre-subsidy rates] that they wanted to make sure people browsing got the lowest price. That required signing in so you could see subsidies," he said.
At The Week, conservative blogger Edward Morrissey compared the website's failures to presumed flaws with the entire system. "When voters start paying through the nose in this system, they will soon recognize that the administration's ideas of reform are as workable in real life as the ObamaCare exchange website," he wrote. Rate shock stories often leave out federal subsidies, but that analogy will hold water for some as long as the federal exchange is still working out kinks.