Editorial: A frustrating start to Affordable Care Act
Anyone who works in an office has experienced it: The boss promises a fancy computer upgrade that will make everyone’s life easier – and, come to find out, it leaves everyone angry and frustrated, taking too much time to do formerly simple tasks, spending endless hours with far-away “help” desks, never quite getting the help they need.
In an American workplace, that’s par for the course. But when the Obama administration flipped the switch on HealthCare.gov, we might have expected something different. And when it didn’t work as planned, we might have expected an immediate and forthright explanation.
By the time President Obama – once known for his shrewd use of technology – addressed the glitch-plagued rollout yesterday, he wasn’t telling the country much it didn’t already know: Three weeks into it, the online signup system for the Affordable Care Act doesn’t work.
In a story on yesterday’s front page, Monitor reporter Sarah Palermo recounted some of the frustrations experienced in New Hampshire: Some residents without insurance are using paper applications to circumvent the Obamacare website, hoping to find out whether they are eligible for subsidies and tax credits toward the cost of coverage – but have not yet received a response. Many who have tried to apply online have given up in frustration. “Navigators,” hired to help residents find their way through the system have created a two-step process for residents seeking help: learn about the program today, schedule an appointment for later to actually sign up.
The Washington Post reported problems that go deeper than the sign-up. Sometimes the website gives faulty information about the tax credits, for instance. Sometimes it tells wrongly tells poor people they’re ineligible for Medicaid. Insurance companies report getting inaccurate information about who has actually signed up – multiple enrollments and cancellation for the same person on the same day.
And from the New York Times, this grim assessment: Contractors believe they have identified most of the main technical problems, but the administration has been slow to order fixes and the system may still be weeks away from working correctly. If that’s the case, the government may need to rethink the March 31 deadline for Americans to sign up for insurance or face fines; the sooner officials face that reality, the better.
Indeed, only now is the administration publicly admitting what has been obvious to everyone else: The startup is, in fact, balky. High volume isn’t the only problem. And, most important, a quick fix is in order.
Had they not been so obsessed with defunding Obamacare, the Republicans who shut down the government earlier this month and threatened to default on the nation’s bills, might have spent the past three weeks actually making a compelling case that the new health law was not ready for prime time. Instead, they did nothing more than convince many Americans that the next election can’t come soon enough.
The Affordable Care Act still represents the best chance for millions of Americans to have what the rest of us take for granted: the financial security that comes with insurance, the ability to take preventive health-care measures that ward off more serious interventions, the knowledge that one dire diagnosis won’t mean bankruptcy.
The law, a compromise like everything produced by government, isn’t perfect. It doesn’t go as far as we’d have liked. And because the Supreme Court left it to states to decide whether to expand their Medicaid programs, Obamacare could end up providing health insurance for many middle-class citizens while leaving millions of poor people without assistance.
Here’s something the Obama administration probably doesn’t need to hear from us: Fix the system – and fast. As you do so, transparency is key. Admit what’s not working. Keep Americans in the loop. It’s not just politics. The health of millions of Americans depends on it.