Any business that rolls out an untested product that doesn’t work won’t stay in business for long.
Even kids with a lemonade stand know better than to sell a drink before tasting it.
Yet in starting the health insurance marketplaces that are key to the federal Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration appears to have forgotten such necessities.
The administration messed up implementation of its signature legislation despite having years to prepare. The website that was intended to make it easy to find and buy policies instead has been functioning somewhere between slow and not at all.
Companies — large and small — have been installing and implementing new computer systems and online products for years. Virtually all put their systems through extensive testing before “going live.” It’s astounding that testing for the administration’s signature program could be so inadequate.
Yet it seems as if no one involved tried to duplicate the average consumer’s experience of trying to buy insurance via the HealthCare.gov website. The system was ill prepared for the large number of people who wanted to shop. Those who could log on often couldn’t see what plans they could buy, how much it would cost them or the amount of tax credit they might receive. People who signed up successfully worked for hours to do so.
The information technology challenge was so vast that the president’s team had to call in Verizon for help. Can you reach them now?
It’s as if nobody in Washington thought to look at states like Kentucky and Massachusetts, which have built health marketplaces that do work.
Even one of the buyers the president featured at a White House press conference about the website, a woman from Delaware, later told CBS News that it took her seven hours over 11 days to get signed up. Hardly cause for celebration.
Here’s the thing: Regardless of whether you like or oppose health care reform, it is the law. But it must be workable.
There are some things the administration could do quickly to turn this listing ship around, starting with more IT help to fix the technological challenges of the health marketplace website. It could turn to the states and private businesses that have done this kind of work before and done it better for advice on how to make the system work.
When the marketplaces opened Oct. 1 to problems, the president called them “glitches” and said Americans would have plenty of time to sign up. Dec. 15 is the date to enroll and pay the first premium for coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014, while Feb. 15 is the deadline to avoid paying a fine for not having insurance.
It’s now three weeks later and problems continue. The deadlines grow closer. “There is no question that we did not anticipate the scale of problems with the website,” a White House spokesman said Wednesday.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., no fan of the Affordable Care Act, is proposing legislation to delay the penalty. He says people shouldn’t be punished for not buying insurance when technical problems have made it difficult if not impossible to sign up. If the administration can’t quickly find a cure, Rubio’s idea is a sensible one.
As a practical matter, the financial viability of the new health care law hinges on people being able to sign on in significant numbers. Government shouldn’t enforce penalties for not buying a product that the government’s own marketplaces are unable to sell.