ObamaCare, on the edge of delay
How is the great project to fix the zillion busted lines of code ObamaCare’s crap website coming along? There’s a daily conference call to brief reporters on progress, and the Washington Post says that today’s chin-wag “was not especially good news.”
As capacity problems at the start of HealthCare.gov get fixed, tech workers are finding new capacity problems later in the application process — ones that, up until now, they didn’t know about.
“Essentially what is happening is people are going through the entire process,” Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille, who runs the daily call, told reporters. “As we have fixed certain pieces of functionality, like the account creation process, we’re seeing volume go further down the application. We’re identifying new issues that we need to be in a position to troubleshoot.”
That means that, as the HealthCare.gov team ticks items off its “punch list,” it’s also adding new ones that need to be addressed.
Well, that’s what you get for unleashing a half-baked crony-engineered system that never actually passed any comprehensive tests. Nobody was able to get all the way through the process before, so all sorts of previously unsuspected problems are being discovered as hardy explorers use data torches to drive back the swarm of computer bugs.
The deeper problems were well-hidden beneath the initial layers of failure, which the Administration hilariously tried to pass off as a masterfully-designed $500 million system melting under higher-than-expected traffic from its incredible popularity. We should never get so wrapped up in Obama’s Big Lies that we forget how often, and shamelessly, he and his people told us that one, to quell the initial wave of public outrage over the embarrassing insta-flop of Healthcare.gov. On the contrary, the diligent Republican investigators on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have pried some more documents from the white-knuckled grasp of the Most Transparent Administration in History, and it turns out officials never expected the system to handle more than a measly 1,100 users at launch.
Remember, one of Obama’s previous lies was that a vast horde of 50 million people was teeming out there in the bleak wastelands of uninsurance, dying for a chance to obtain coverage that could only be given to them by nationalizing the industry (and ruining the lives of millions of others.) But now we learn Team Obama thought capacity for 1,100 simultaneous users was good enough for the most expensive Internet project ever. As it turned out, only six people actually signed up, nationwide, on Day One. They knew damn well their system wasn’t collapsing beneath an avalanche of eager customers they never could have anticipated.
And they knew they were putting the data security of Americans at risk with a lousy system. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted in Senate testimony on Wednesday that she knew about serious security problems as far back as August. The Chief Information Officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tony Trenkle, was supposed to sign off on security for HealthCare.gov, but he never did. He tendered his resignation yesterday. Instead, Team Obama settled for an “interim” authorization that amounted to launching the S.S. ObamaCare and checking for leaks in the hull later, once it was well out to sea. This would appear to be a violation of White House directives issued by… Jeff Zients, the crisis manager who is now in charge of getting Healthcare.gov up and running by the end of this month.
So now the logjam at the outer layers is clearing up, and more problems are surfacing beneath. Officials still claim this ever-growing “punch list” will get punched out on schedule, by the beginning of December. Security testing for an ever-evolving system would be a time-consuming nightmare, which leads to suspicions it’s going to be skimped in the mad dash to have some progress to report when the deadline hits, even if it’s not the complete functionality originally promised. The Administration defiantly insists that no delay for ObamaCare implementation or the dreaded individual mandate tax/penalty will be entertained.
Except… according to a Reuters report on Thursday afternoon, they seem to be sending different signals to Humana Inc., one of the nation’s largest insurance companies, which announced it has “cut its enrollment forecasts by half and expected the government to delay the sign-up deadline.” And they’re not the only ones giving that impression:
UnitedHealth Group, the largest healthcare insurer in the United States, said on Wednesday it would work with the federal government “if a decision is made to allow individuals more time to sign up.”
The insurance industry has lobbied against an extension that would include delaying the law’s penalty for Americans who do not obtain coverage by the end of March, saying it would leave them with a heavier concentration of sicker, costlier patients. That would create even greater business losses and higher prices for consumers down the road, and could require the federal government to come in and cover some of the damage.
But Humana said on Wednesday it was assuming a delay at this point, and that it already cut its view for profits from the new business that it had expected from healthcare reform.
“We’re waiting for guidance from the government around whether they are going to change mandates and whether they are going to do things to extend the enrollment period,” Humana Chief Operating Officer Jim Murray said during a call with investors to discuss quarterly results.
“Given where we’re at today, our assumption is that there will be an extension to the open enrollment period,” he said.
The insurance companies have no reason to manufacture false expectations for an ObamaCare delay. It’s not something they want. On the contrary, it might be the death of them.
Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for industry’s main lobby group AHIP, said this week that a delay of one year “could have a destabilizing effect on insurance markets, resulting in higher premiums and coverage disruptions.”
This would mean a smaller and sicker insurance pool for the health plans being offered, increasing the costs to insurers and resulting in them raising rates for 2015 or dropping out. It could also put the federal government on the hook for covering some insurer losses under the law.
Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, said that the administration’s insistence against a delay “means that they appreciate the damage that such a delay would do, and don’t want to do it unless it’s necessary.”
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former advisor to Republican Senator John McCain, said increasing delays could also work against the goal of signing up more people.
“It sends the signal that this isn’t working,” he said. “That’s not an appealing reason to go sign up.”
So, how are those ObamaCare enrollments looking now? Delaware spent $4 million setting up its state exchange, and one month after launch, they’ve signed up a grand total of… four people, with an awe-inspiring 31 applications pending. Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the largest provider in North Carolina, reports just one enrollee as of this week, “and that person hasn’t paid.”
Of course, the Administration isn’t giving us any solid numbers on total nationwide enrollment yet – and when they do, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll have Medicaid enrollments mixed in, to the point where it will probably take a congressional subpoena to separate them. But with initial enrollments low, the early applicants tending to skew older and less healthy, and the ongoing Healthcare.gov disaster turning off the covered “young invincibles,” there’s real reason to think the kind of delay that would make abundant good sense would be murder on the private-sector ObamaCare partners, as well as a political disaster for the White House.