Obamacare web site problems could be hiding even larger issues

As I’ve mentioned before, the Obamacare insurance exchange web site has been experiencing severe problems since its implementation.

None of these have been resolved. The situation has become so dire that policy wonk Ezra Klein has been continually and increasingly lambasting the Obama administration for their handling of the site (h/t Economic Policy Journal):

 In the months before the launch almost every senior member of the Obama administration had a little calendar board tacked up in a prominent spot in their office. “75 days until Obamacare” it would say. The next morning they would tear off the page. “74 days until Obamacare” it would say. The message — to them and to their visitors — was clear: This was the White House’s top priority.

We’re now negative 14 days until the Affordable Care Act and most people still can’t purchase insurance. The magnitude of this failure is stunning. Yes, the federal health-care law is a complicated project, government IT rules are a mess, and the scrutiny has been overwhelming. But the Obama administration knew all that going in. They should’ve been able to build an online portal that works.

Early on, President Obama like (sic) to compare the launch of the Affordable Care Act to Apple launching a new product. Can you imagine how many people Steve Jobs would’ve fired by now if he’d launched a new product like this?

Meanwhile, a Forbes article discusses the main reason behind the site’s inability to perform: people need to register before shopping for health insurance, presumably to provide the government with sufficient information to determine their eligibility for subsidies. Several computer systems need to interact with one another during this registration process, and it appears that there wasn’t sufficient understanding about the specifications of this process. The Obama administration was aware of the potential problems of this bottleneck, yet refused to delay implementation of the site to avoid giving Republicans any more ammunition about Obamacare.

Beyond the IT problems, however, lies a far more fundamental issue. The very structure of Obamacare “drives up the cost of the insurance plans that are offered under the law’s public exchanges.” According to an analysis conducted by the Manhattan Institute, “the cheapest plan offered in a given state, under Obamacare, will be 99 percent more expensive for men, and 62 percent more expensive for women, than the cheapest plan offered under the old system. And those disparities are even wider for healthy people.” The Forbes article then goes on to ask an obvious question:

If 50 million people are uninsured today, mainly because insurance is too expensive, why is it better to make coverage even costlier?

And provides an answer:

Obamacare wasn’t designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions.

But the laws’ supporters and enforcers don’t want you to know that, because it would violate the President’s incessantly repeated promise that nothing would change for the people that Obamacare doesn’t directly help. If you shop for Obamacare-based coverage without knowing if you qualify for subsidies, you might be discouraged by the law’s steep costs.

This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.

If this reasoning is correct, then it is highly likely that these IT “issues” won’t be resolved anytime soon.

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