The Obamacare enrollment website remains badly broken despite two weeks of intensive round-the-clock efforts at repairs.
HHS isn’t making any predictions about how long it will take to fix it — or rebuild it. But advocates, lobbyists and industry officials are talking about it as a months-long repair effort.
They aren’t blaming “glitches” and “traffic” anymore. In fact, they haven’t said much at all in the past few days, while a string of leaked emails, memos and reports describe deeper hardware and software malfunctions. Today, again, featured a “No comment” from the administration.
Here's another tidbit which points to the administration's cluelessness.
In general, Americans have until the end of March to enroll in a 2014 Obamacare plan, but to avoid a tax penalty, they’ll have to sign up by mid-February. This quirk, unearthed by industry observers, appears to have gone previously unnoticed by the administration.
“The IRS didn’t know that,” said Jackson Hewitt Vice President Brian Haile, who recently brought the issue to the administration’s attention.
Haile says the administration could choose to relax enforcement of the individual mandate to get coverage, which is already viewed as weak in its first year — $95 or 1 percent of a person’s income, whichever is higher. Other changes could also come — but the administration isn’t talking much about what it’s going to change tomorrow, let alone a few months from now.
The WSJ is less charitable, as you would expect.
The White House set low expectations for the Affordable Care Act's October 1 debut, so anything remotely competent should have seemed like a success. But three weeks on, the catastrophe that is Healthcare.gov and the 36 insurance exchanges run by the federal government is an insult to the "glitches" President Obama said were inevitable.
This isn't some coding error, or even the Health and Human Service Department's usual incompetence. The failures that have all but disabled ObamaCare are the result of deliberate political choices, which HHS and the White House are compounding with secrecy and stonewalling.
The health industry and low-level Administration officials warned that the exchanges were badly off schedule and not stress-tested despite three years to prepare and more than a half-billion dollars in funding. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her planners swore they'd be ready while impugning critics and even withholding documents from the HHS inspector general for a routine performance audit this summer.
Yet the launch has been worse even than critics predicted. The rare users who weren't locked out experienced crashes, delays and error messages. Mrs. Sebelius initially claimed this was merely servers crashing under unexpectedly high demand. She called it "a great problem to have."
Now that traffic has abated, HHS concedes there were built-in information technology and structural defects. Some of Healthcare.gov's automatic operations mimic hacker denial-of-service attacks meant to disable a site. These can be fixed, though press reports suggest they're due to a programming rush because HHS delayed key regulations and IT specifications until after the election to avoid Republican criticism.
Then instead of rolling out the program in stages or delaying it as HHS has so many other parts of the law, the department simply dumped a bad product on the public to meet a self-created deadline.
Other failures have the same political character. Consumers must set up a complex account with sensitive personal information like Social Security numbers before they are allowed to browse health plans. The government wants to show consumers only their net out-of-pocket premiums minus subsidies, not the true underlying cost of insurance. That's because those all-in quotes are so much higher than what's available on the individual market.
HHS continues to claim that the exchanges are all about competition—they're even trying to rebrand them as "marketplaces." But real marketplaces are transparent and let consumers know what they get for what price. ObamaCare's exchanges are intended to obscure price and service options.
HHS still refuses to disclose how much taxpayers shelled out for this exchange lemon. The money came from several ObamaCare, general HHS and Medicare accounts and flowed to more than 50 outside vendors, with several no-bid contracts awarded outside the normal procurement process.
Mrs. Sebelius also refuses to reveal basic data about ObamaCare enrollment even as she brags about the millions of people who have supposedly visited Healthcare.gov. Information that would allow outsiders to evaluate the exchanges includes how many people have applied and qualified for coverage so far, what types of health plans they're selecting and what their health risks are.
Mrs. Sebelius claims she doesn't know the answers and that the government will pull such information together in November. Given the farce so far, it makes sense that the CEO of ObamaCare can't or isn't monitoring its day-to-day operations. But this claim is almost certainly false.
Before the rollout, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Sebelius likened the exchanges to a new Apple product and asked for forbearance as problems were fixed. But Apple doesn't ship products that don't work and then force everyone to buy them, and a private business executive who supervised a fiasco like this would already have been fired.
Emphasis mine. And it still doesn't work with 88% less traffic. So much for that excuse. The NYT reports that, if you're lucky enough to get into Obamaware, real comparison shopping is a farce.
Although apparently too busy to crank out a workable healthcare software portal, it didn't stop them adding a page for voter registration.
The link is optional, but the question remains, what does registering to vote have to do with signing up for Obamacare?
The site is obviously right-leaning, but question is still legit, and the legitimate answer is nothing.
It would be ironic if imposter enrollment portals worked better than Healthcare.gov, but that's what happens when you're a president who is more interested in winning than governing. Because this, folks, is what big government trainwreck looks like.
According to a Sep. 5 memo obtained by the Associated Press, the White House projected a slow start for Obamacare enrollment, estimating that 494,620 people would sign up for health insurance under the program by Oct. 31. That number could be lower, given the problems with the federally-run online marketplace Healthcare.gov.
Skikha Dalmia further explains the house of cards Obama built for himself.
The reality is that the way President Obama ramrodded this law through Congress has left him very little margin for error. The next couple of months will make or break the program.
Two weeks into the launch and its problems only keep multiplying. Consumers still can’t log into the federal exchange website, let alone compare plans, apply for the promised subsidies and buy coverage. The site—whose staggering $634 million construction cost [EDIT: This should have been revised to "over $500 million"] is more than that of LinkedIn and Spotify combined—has already been shut down once for repairs, but the problems persist.
Thing are so bad that the administration won’t even reveal basic information about enrollment rates. Nor will it make its IT folks available to explain the technical glitches, insisting that “pent up demand” is overwhelming capacity.
But experts whom Reuters consulted believe that the architecture of the websites is fundamentally flawed and needs to be radically overhauled. For example, when individuals “apply” for coverage, the website automatically opens over 90 separate files and plugins to stream information from the user’s computer. The flood of traffic paralyzes the connection.
None of this is unexpected. In fact, insurance companies now say they’d been warning the administration for months that the exchange was not ready for prime time.
But the same reason the administration rushed to launch is also why it can’t afford any extended delays now.
The law requires every American to have coverage by sometime early next year, although the administration keeps changing its mind about the precise date. But failure to have coverage by whatever date it eventually decides would result in a $96 fine [EDIT: No! It's a tax!] for individuals and $285 for families. But extracting fines without giving people viable purchase options will generate even more outrage against a law that a majority of Americans already dislike.
However, postponing the individual mandate is not an option either, even though that would be the right thing to do given that the administration has delayed the employer mandate. That’s because insurance companies need young and healthy people in the pool to offset the costs for the older and sicker patients that they are now required to cover at affordable rates. Suspending the mandate will mean that their most lucrative customers will bow out, making it impossible for them to honor the premiums that they are offering without going under. This could jeopardize patients far beyond those in the exchange.
But if the law ends up raising prices and/or throwing people out of coverage—the exact opposite of what it promised—Republicans will obtain potent ammunition against Democrats ahead of next year’s mid-term elections. And not just Republicans.
Even in Obama-friendly Maryland, these so-called glitches are hurting healthcare co-op start-ups whose very reason for being was Obamacare. Other insurance companies are opting out for the time being.
Insurance consultant Robert Laszewski, who has been working with health plans selling insurance on the exchanges, told The Washington Post this week that he wouldn’t even bother using the federal exchange system himself, and would advise others to avoid it. “People are just wasting their time,” he said, adding that fixes haven't been forthcoming. “There’s no evidence of any improvement so far.”
The CEO of Aetna, meanwhile, told CNBC that testing of the system has been done on the fly, and that health insurers—who are connected directly to the exchange systems—didn’t get the code to connect their systems until a month before the exchanges opened. He predicted that it could be three years until all the problems are solved.
Three years! The administration already had three years to build the system. They failed—in part because they dragged their feet on the process to begin with. Deadlines for key regulations—rules that were essential to creation and design of the exchange—were consistently late. As early as the summer of 2010, HHS had already missed multiple implementation deadlines. Warnings about regulatory holdups persisted through November 2012 as the administration delayed the release of yet more rules required to keep the exchange process on track.
Delay after delay piled up. And the system’s most technologically challenging component sat not just unfinished but essentially unstarted for more than a year after the contract to build it was awarded. CGI Federal was awarded a $94 million contract to build the data hub and back end of the federal exchanges in December of 2011, but did not even begin to write code until spring of 2013, according to The New York Times.
Frustrated, anxious health insurers knew it was a mess. So did federal officials. “Confidential progress reports from the Health and Human Services Department show that senior officials repeatedly expressed doubts that the computer systems for the federal exchange would be ready on time,” according to the Times.
But rather than admit their problems, the administration offered confident spin. “States and the federal government will be ready in 10 months,” Gary Cohen, the federal official overseeing implementation of Obamacare’s exchanges said at the end of 2012. The exchanges “will be ready,” he promised members of Congress again a month later in response to skeptical questioning.
Those promises continued throughout the summer. In July, HHS Secretary Sebelius offered yet another assurance that all was well. “We are on track to flip the switch on October 1st and say to people come on and sign up.” In August, she did it again. “In every state in the country, regardless of what you hear, in every state in the country, there will be a new health marketplace open for business on October 1. There will be online availability that now is up and running.”
Liars. Cohen and Sebeilus, that is.
The environment couldn't be more ripe for ridicule. After getting their asses handed to them yesterday, the GOP will leave their self-created trainwreck and focus on Obama's self-created trainwreck-in-progress. Just think. Without a partial shutdown and debt-ceiling hijinks, the GOP could have made much more progress on the law they so desperately wanted to defund. Idjits.
UPDATE 1: Yes, the diary is a little long, but for an administration that pledged transparency, this president and the people under him deliberately hid information for political reasons, at the expense of putting out a better product. Exhibit A, from the first link:
Facing such intense opposition from congressional Republicans, the administration was in a bunker mentality as it built the enrollment system, one former administration official said. Officials feared that if they called on outsiders to help with the technical details of how to run a commerce website, those companies could be subpoenaed by Hill Republicans, the former aide said. So the task fell to trusted campaign tech experts.
“Healthcare.gov was initially going to include an option to browse before registering,” report Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky in the Wall Street Journal. “But that tool was delayed, people familiar with the situation said.” Why was it delayed? “An HHS spokeswoman said the agency wanted to ensure that users were aware of their eligibility for subsidies that could help pay for coverage, before they started seeing the prices of policies.” (Emphasis added.)
Bottom line, Obama made the situation worse because he didn't want transparency, in my opinion. Obamaware is a lousy product, so he hid actual premium costs from consumers and he hid the site's architectural problems from contractors who could testify before Congress. If he were transparent, users seeking affordable care would blanch at the truth of premium costs, thus undermining his fiscal house of cards. Putting contractors before a House subcommittee would reveal the extent of his incompetence, that Obama couldn't build a functional website with over three years' lead time. Obama poured money into Obamaware, but not in time.
A Reuters review of government documents shows that the contract to build the federal Healthcare.gov online insurance website - key to President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform - tripled in potential total value to nearly $292 million as new money was assigned to the work beginning in April this year.
The increase coincided with warnings from federal and state officials that the information technology underlying the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people could buy Obamacare health insurance was in trouble.
Compounding this, Obamaware technology is ten years old.
The federal health care exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and the eventual overhaul of the entire system, technology experts told USA TODAY.
Of these, Obama couldn't hire these technology experts because they would be at risk of testifying before Congress. Catch-22.
And here's what we also know. Obamaware wasn't even fully tested until one week before launch.
Federal officials did not permit testing of the Obamacare healthcare.gov website or issue final system requirements until four to six days before its Oct. 1 launch, according to an individual with direct knowledge of the project.
The individual, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the troubled Obamacare website project as suffering from top-level management disarray, changing systems requirements and recurring delays.
The root cause of the problems was a pivotal decision by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials to act as systems integrator, the central coordinator for the entire program. Usually this role is reserved for the prime information technology contractor.
As a result, full testing of the site was delayed until four to six days before the fateful Oct. 1 launch of the health care exchanges, the individual said.
Federal officials were “freezing requirements in time to permit full testing at all levels of the site — integration testing, user testing, performance testing and tuning,” the individual said.
“Normally a system this size would need 4-6 months of testing and performance tuning, not 4-6 days,” the individual said.
This well explains why actual enrollments are likely closer to 20,000 in the first week, not the 36,000 reported by the Washington Post.
There was no progress for the new federal health insurance exchange's information technology and enrollment challenges in its second week.
At the end of week two of the Obamacare launch, health plans were generally seeing no more enrollments per day then they saw in the first week.
As troubling, the backroom issues plaguing the connection between health insurers and the federal government had not been resolved and there is no indication from the feds when they will have these things cleared up.
My sense is that the feds, based upon the number of enrollments they have sent to the insurance companies, enrolled about 10,000 people in the first week (about 5,000 single and family contracts) and another 10,000 people in the second week in the 36 states using the federal exchange.
The Washington Post earlier this week cited estimates that the number was about 36,000 the first week using a web analysis firm's review of traffic. My estimates are based upon hard numbers from high market share plans then projected over the entire 36-state federal market.
There also may be some paper applications waiting for the systems to work so that they may be entered and enrolled with the insurers.
But then, the feds could easily clear this up by just telling us how many people have enrolled.
They could clear it up, but why be transparent now. It just gets worse with each passing story. You know it's bad when one of the design team members scrubs its site, removing all reference of its involvement in the creation of Obamaware.
Visit the website of Michigan-based design firm Teal Media today and you’d never know designers there helped create HealthCare.gov, the troubled online portal for Obamacare.
Just a few days ago, the site looked very different. Teal Media’s homepage featured its work on Obamacare prominently, placing a link to the firm’s work on one of the most well-known websites in America front and center. Now that link, as well as the page devoted to Teal’s work on HealthCare.gov, have been removed.
Here’s a cached version of what the homepage used to look like. And here’s a cached version of Teal’s page devoted just to its work on HealthCare.gov. That page has been deleted.
Teal Media doesn’t seem interested in talking about its work on HealthCare.gov. A woman who answered the phone at the company’s headquarters immediately referred BuzzFeed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) before a single question was asked. CMS is listed as Teal’s client on the firm’s now-erased HealthCare.gov page.
When asked about the changed content on the Teal Media site, the woman said that was done ‘in consultation with HHS,” and again referred a reporter to CMS.
A CMS spokesperson declined to comment on the record.
More transparency. This is what happens when you vote for a lightweight who's in over his head.
UPDATE 2: Hitler learns about the Obamacare exchanges.