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The web portal that is supposed to help Americans shop for health insurance has had a tumultuous rollout.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Comedian David Letterman recently asked his late-night television audience, “How many of you are only here because you had some trouble signing up for Obamacare, and instead you got tickets to the show?”
The unknown number of people faced with the nightmarish task of trying to sign up for insurance using the blunder-plagued web portal could use a laugh, but they’re probably not in the mood.
They’ve had difficulty logging in, muddled through a burdensome registration process and seethed in anger over frequent hang-ups as they tried to shop for a policy. And even if they managed to claw their way through those issues, insurers often ended up with erroneous information about their purchase.
To say that the rollout of the $400 million-plus healthcare.gov web portal has been less than graceful is an understatement. Defects visible from the first minutes of operation showcased the poor decisions that went into the underfunded, hasty initiative. Software developers told The Associated Press that they were aware of the potential for a website failure a year ago, but officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services attempted to handle testing of the computer system themselves instead of employing people with the technical expertise to handle the massive project. As a result, software defects and design errors went untended.
The web portal is supposed to provide an online health care exchange for the 10 percent of Americans without workplace health plans who also aren’t covered by Medicare or other government medical programs. Those people face a mid-December deadline for signing up for insurance set to take effect Jan. 1.
Thirty-four states, including Virginia, depend on the federally operated exchange. Leaders in another 16 states were sage enough to set up their own exchanges, which in comparison are running quite nicely, including ones in Washington, Connecticut and Republican-dominated Kentucky.
It’s embarrassing that the federal exchange compares so poorly to the state-operated versions, and problems continue to surface.
A website upgrade has been postponed indefinitely and Spanish-language signups have yet to be launched.
President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have been too slow to produce explanations or even to reveal how many people have signed up successfully thus far.
The administration has announced that 476,000 applications have been started, but has yet to be clear on how many of them have been completed.
Obama has a duty to provide full transparency, including a full accounting of the costs incurred by the poorly conceived roll-out. So far, he has failed to explain what went amiss and who is responsible. Just as important, he must provide a timeline for mending the exchange, and he must stick to it. Americans deserve better. They should insist on it.
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