Today, the Obama Administration’s message is that healthcare.gov is a lot better than it was at its disastrous inauguration two months ago.
Well, sure: Using the Obamacare Web site is a more pleasant experience than it was before. Registering is much easier. The site doesn’t freeze repeatedly. But it still is not where it should have been on Oct. 1 — and the early success of the policy still hangs in the balance.
Leading up to last weekend’s deadline to get the site working, administration officials assured Americans that the “vast majority of users” would be able to use it. To them, “vast majority” means 80 percent of users — which is still too low.
Officials boast the site now can handle 50,000 users at the same time. Yet that was the goal for Oct. 1 — a day on which five times that many tried to gain access to the site at once.
Then there are less-visible issues. Officials admit they are still having trouble with the files that transfer enrollment information to insurers. Other parts of the site’s back end still aren’t built.
It was right, but not encouraging, that the administration extended the date by which people have to apply to get coverage that starts on Jan. 1. Even that is risky: Insurers will have only eight days to work out the logistics of enrolling those who sign up late this month.
Timing has become the most urgent issue. Late last month, the Commonwealth Fund estimated that the country is roughly 3 percent of the way to its goal of enrolling 7 million people through new marketplaces by the end of March, when 2014’s enrollment period ends for good.
The program must reach people who are very far from policy debates. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 38 percent of uninsured Americans had heard “nothing at all about” the new health-insurance marketplaces the law is setting up for them.
The challenge is evident even in states where implementation is going well. California, which set up its own health-care marketplace site, led the nation with 80,000 enrollments in private insurance plans as of late last month. The profile of those who signed up also appeared balanced between young and old — a balance the policy needs to work.
Yet the task is still huge. California has four more months to sign up the remaining 500,000 to 700,000 people it expects to enroll and obtain subsidies through its marketplace by March 31.
Numbers everywhere will pick up as deadlines approach. The extent to which they do, however, will depend on the length and quality of the delayed enrollment campaign, and the extent to which people respond to the threat of charges from the Internal Revenue Service — assuming that understaffed agency can pull off its part of the rollout.
In Washington, where short-term thinking is the only type, it’s easy to look at the challenges that remain, condemn the whole reform as unworkable, and propose some counterproductive “solution.” That would be a terrible mistake.
Though elements of the rollout have flopped, the policy itself has not proven a disaster. It is still one President Obama, nervous Democrats, uncooperative Republicans, and others at all levels of government can get to work. It’s about time they all tried their hardest.
— Washington Post