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HealthCare.gov: An Inexcusable Train Wreck

October 11, 2013

President Obama’s bungled health insurance exchange rollout has been all over the news. This week, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer commented, “They had three years to get this ready. If they weren’t fully ready, they should accept the advice Republicans are giving them, delay it for a year, get it ready and make sure it works.” Even information technology experts who support Obamacare viciously condemned the HealthCare.gov user experience saying, “It appears the people who built the site don’t know what they’re doing, never used it, and didn’t test it.” During the past 10 days, Americans tried in vain to create user accounts, compare plan rates, fill out applications, ask questions using web chats, choose a plan, and complete the enrollment process.

Ironically, the Administration acted surprised, even though Republicans and other observers repeatedly warned that the exchanges were not ready for prime time. Edifects, a health care information technology consulting firm, released a survey in February showing 70 percent of insurers remained “skeptical that the [exchanges] will be ready to launch by the October 1, 2013 deadline.” The survey went on to say that 75 percent of insurers were “very concerned with being able to reconcile premium, enrollment, and payment records” transferred from the exchanges.

In March, an official who oversees exchange technology for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tried to lower expectations saying, “I’m pretty nervous … Let’s just make sure it’s not a third world experience.” Then in June, the non-partisan GAO raised concerns about the Administration’s missed deadlines and program delays, and in August news emerged that the Federal Data Services Hub’s IT security system to protect Americans’ private financial data had yet to be independently tested and verified. The HHS Inspector General issued a report signaling the Administration missed multiple deadlines necessary to test the Data Hub’s operational capability, identify vulnerabilities, and remediate security risks.

Sadly, the news keeps getting worse. This week reports surfaced that the Obama Administration is sending health insurance companies faulty and incomplete enrollment application data. Health IT experts warn that only “1 in 100” applications provided to insurers contain enough verified information necessary to enroll the person in a plan. Americans who were able to access HealthCare.gov and select an insurance plan may not be covered on January 1, 2014, because the Obama Administration failed to give the insurance company adequate information to process the application.

Last week, HHS started transferring a very small number of federal exchange enrollment applications to the insurers. Industry data consultants reveal, however, that many electronic enrollment files are corrupted and cannot be opened – or fail to contain enough data, rendering it unusable. This forced some insurance companies to fix each application’s bad data – one file at a time, often by hand. One expert warned that this is an unsustainable solution: “If you’ve only got a dozen bad enrollments, that’s OK, but what are you going to do when you have 200,000 bad enrollments? What we’re seeing in public is the web portal, which is a mess. It is just as bad behind the wizard’s curtain.”

The costs keep piling up for the American taxpayer. According to media reports, HealthCare.gov cost an estimated $634 million to build. To put that in perspective, one observer noted, “Facebook, which received its first investment in June 2004, operated for a full six years before surpassing the $600 million mark in June 2010. Twitter, created in 2006, managed to get by with only $360.17 million in total funding until a $400 million boost in 2011. Instagram ginned up just $57.5 million in funding before Facebook bought it for (a staggering) $1 billion last year. And LinkedIn and Spotify, meanwhile, have only raised, respectively, $200 million and $288 million.”

Meanwhile, the American people are left to wonder what they got out of their investment and how President Obama can tax uninsured Americans for not having something that they can’t purchase.

Health Care Headlines

CBS News: “Obamacare website looks ‘like nobody tested it,’ programmer says” Computer experts say the HealthCare.gov website has major flaws. Luke Chung, an online database programmer who supports the new health care law, said it was not the demand that is crashing the site. He thinks the entire website needs a complete overhaul. “It’s not even close. It’s not even ready for beta testing for my book. I would be ashamed and embarrassed if my organization delivered something like that,” he said.

Forbes: How Obamacare’s Exchanges Turned Into A ‘Third World Experience’ One week into the launch of Obamacare, it’s easier to blog from the Kenyan border than to sign up for insurance on Obamacare’s federal exchange. Why is this happening? Politics. The Obama Administration was more afraid of delaying the launch of Obamacare, than they were of botching it.

CNBC: “99% of Obamacare applications hit a wall” It’s a batting average that won’t land the federal marketplace for Obamacare into the Healthcare Hall of Fame. As few as 1 in 100 applications on the federal exchange contains enough information to enroll the applicant in a plan.

Bloomberg: “Insurers Getting Faulty Data From U.S. Health Exchanges” Insurers are getting faulty and incomplete data from the new U.S.-run health exchange, which may mean some Americans won’t be covered even after they sign up for an insurance plan.

Associated Press: “Get Covered by Valentine’s Day to Avoid Fines” You'll have to get coverage by Valentine’s Day or thereabouts to avoid penalties for being uninsured, the Obama administration confirmed Wednesday. That’s about six weeks earlier than a March 31 deadline often cited previously.

Politico: “Once you get into ACA website, it’s hard to get out” Once you finally make it into HealthCare.gov, it’s not clear how you get out. For those who’ve busted through glitches on the federal Obamacare insurance website to create an account, there’s no clear, obvious way for consumers to delete the accounts if they choose.