After several years of debate, planning and tweaking of the Affordable Care Act, the main component is finally here. Enrollment into the health care exchanges has hardly been a booming success as proponents predicted. Instead, the launch has been closer to the train wreck predicted by opponents.
The biggest embarrassment for the rollout has been the numerous problems with the website — HealthCare.gov — which was billed as the simplest way for people to enroll in the new exchanges. Simply put, the website does not work.
I personally tried numerous times to test the application process without success. Most times I received a message that the website was busy and to come back another time. When I was able to get past that, I encountered numerous problems creating a user name, which is required to access virtually everything on the website. I finally got a user name, but could not get the application process to work correctly.
Even President Obama has acknowledged the website issues. In an appearance in the Rose Garden last week, the president sounded like a used car salesman admitting the problem but insisting that the "product is good."
"The problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody," said Obama. "And there’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am — precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work. I want the checkout lines to be smooth. So I want people to be able to get this great product. And there’s no excuse for the problems, and these problems are getting fixed."
The problems have led many to call for a delay in some of the key components of the ACA. This is nothing new for Republicans who consistently and loudly have opposed the passage of the ACA, called for the repeal, demanded a delay, and done virtually everything in their power to try to stop implementation. But the position is new for many Democrats.
Sen. Mark Pryor issued a a carefully worded statement following a letter from New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen that called for extending the enrollment period, but stops short of calling for a full delay of the individual mandate requiring everyone to purchase qualifying health care insurance.
"I read Senator Shaheen’s letter today and support the common sense idea to extend the date for open enrollment. I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up. In addition, the Administration should state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can’t sign up in time. We all want to see the law work, and I hope the Administration will take a hard look at this reasonable suggestion," said Pryor.
One interesting piece of the rollout has been the contrast of the federally run website compared to some of the successes of state run websites. One example is Arkansas, where the state run website — insureark.org — has worked without any major issues. This is the website used by the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, which signs up participants in the new Arkansas private option plan. The website, along with a direct mail campaign, has reportedly assisted over 60,000 Arkansans in signing up for the new subsidized insurance plan.
Several other states, such as Kentucky, have seen similar success compared to the glitch-ridden federal website. So it turns out local government just might be better at running things after all.
But as I have said before, the success of Obamacare will depend on whether the program works and people like it. So far, it is not doing very well.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.