Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

October 8, 2013

Health law glitches: fatal or fleeting?

WASHINGTON — The glitch-ridden rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law has opponents crowing: “Told you so!” and insisting it should be paused, if not scrapped.

But others, including insurance companies, say there’s still enough time to fix the online enrollment system before uninsured Americans start getting coverage on Jan. 1.

After emergency repairs over the weekend, consumers in different parts of the country Monday continued to report delays on healthcare.gov, as well as problems setting up security questions for their accounts. The administration says the site’s crowded electronic “waiting room” is thinning out. Still, officials announced it will be down again for a few hours starting at 1 a.m. Tuesday for more upgrades and fixes.

Despite the confusion, the insurance industry has held off public criticism. Alarmed that only a trickle of customers got through initially, insurers now say enrollments are starting to come in and they expect things to improve.

The last major federal health care launch — the Medicare prescription program in 2006 — also had big startup problems.  Government leaders who oversaw it say things could look very different in a couple of months for Obama’s law if the administration manages to get a grip on the situation.

“There wasn’t enough time for testing, so the dress rehearsal became opening night,” said Michael Leavitt, who as President George W. Bush’s top health official, was responsible for the Medicare drug plan debut.

“The moment of truth is going to come in the middle of November, when people want to see the real deal,” said Leavitt, who currently heads a consulting firm that advises states on the health overhaul. “If they don’t have this running smoothly by then, it’s going to be a bigger problem than we’re seeing today.”

The insurance industry is calling for patience. “This is a marathon and not a sprint,” Karen Ignagni, head of the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement. “We anticipate enrollments will continue to increase in the days and weeks ahead.”

Obama’s law — also known as the Affordable Care Act — was designed to provide insurance for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job. Middle-class uninsured people can buy a government-subsidized private plan, while the poor and near-poor will be steered to Medicaid in states that agree to expand the safety net program. The online insurance markets were envisioned as the 21st century portal to an overhauled system.

But when the health care markets went live last week, millions of curious Americans overwhelmed federal and state insurance websites. The level of interest could be read as a good sign, since polls just prior to the launch found most uninsured people unaware it was coming. Yet for many, the consumer experience was like a Saturday morning spent twiddling thumbs at the local motor vehicle department.

Some prospective customers got a screen that told them to wait — and nothing happened, for hours. Others started to sign up and got trapped by a recurring glitch when they tried to set up security questions to protect their personal accounts. Some who got through all the way to the end found their sessions had timed out, and they had to start over.

The federal website that serves 36 states wasn’t the only problem; several states also had a rough launch. As Republicans opposed to “Obamacare” showed they were willing to shut down the government in an effort to stop it, the administration seemed to be its own worst enemy.

Technology experts say the problems are probably due to a combination of factors: unexpectedly high demand, as well as possible software flaws and shortcomings in design. Sometimes a high volume of users can expose software problems that went undetected in testing, they said.

The administration has mainly blamed high volume. The Health and Human Services department says it is adding servers —workhorse computer equipment — to the system to handle the volume of user requests.

Official media releases have hinted at software and system design problems, without providing detail. For example, one referred to procuring “dedicated hardware” for an unnamed “specific component of the system that became over-stressed.”

Problems caused by website overload should ease as more equipment is added. Software and design flaws are trickier to fix, meaning more overnight repairs.

Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said officials would not release enrollment data on an “hourly or daily or weekly basis,” although outside experts say the administration is certain to have those numbers. Officials regularly report the number of unique visitors to healthcare.gov — they just don’t say how many get to the end of the application. Those numbers will be released at “regular monthly intervals,” Carney said.

Mark McClellan, who ran Medicare during the bumpy prescription program rollout in 2006, said during that time he had detailed daily tracking stats, and he’s sure the Obama administration must have at least the same level of information.

“I would think they have a good handle not only on enrollment, but on each step of the process where the drop-offs are occurring,” McClellan said. “If you aren’t tracking those kinds of performance metrics for the system in close to real time, it’s awfully hard to figure what’s wrong in order to fix it.”

Now a health policy expert with the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, McClellan says the message for consumers is, “take a deep breath. If you are interested in this program, you do not need to make a decision this week, or even this month. You should make a decision by November. Given the issues a lot of people are having, that’s probably a good reason to wait.”

 

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • AP4507280123 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, July 28, 2014
    Today is Monday, July 28, the 209th day of 2014. There are 156 days left in the year. 
     

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tentative deal reached on VA reform

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    July 27, 2014

  • United States-Libya_Rich.jpg US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes

    The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said “free-wheeling militia violence” prompted the move.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP9607270692 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Today is Sunday, July 27, the 208th day of 2014. There are 157 days left in the year.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • No ticket for Shrek over loud musical, chief says

    A musical being performed in a New Hampshire park has drawn some noise complaints, but the deputy police chief says he’s “not giving Shrek a ticket.”

    July 26, 2014

  • Arizona Execution Dru_Rich copy.jpg Arizona’s McCain: Execution was torture

    U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich copy.jpg US: Russia firing into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP7107260254 copy.jpg Today in History for Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Today is Saturday, July 26, the 207th day of 2014. There are 158 days left in the year.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results