CHN: Major Glitches with HealthCare.Gov Cause Enrollment Woes for Millions of Americans; the Administration Vows to Fix the Problems by the End of November
Affordable health care has become one of the most important pillars of Barack Obama’s presidency. So when open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act commenced on October 1, 2013, people nationwide rushed to apply for health insurance coverage – but instead of the simple application process they had been promised, millions of people faced technical roadblocks on the website that kept them from enrolling in a plan – or from even creating an account in some cases. Many people received error messages and suffered long site delays, while website glitches also caused problems for health insurance providers.
President Obama in an October 21 Rose Garden speech said “no one is madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, and that means it’s going to get fixed.” The President also promised Americans that the nation’s top IT professionals are working on fixing the site as soon as possible. In efforts to speed this process, the President named Jeffrey Zients the Administration’s manager of the site’s repairs, and selected Quality Software Services, Inc. to be the general contractor, a role previously played by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which was not well equipped to coordinate the roles of the multiple IT companies involved in the insurance marketplace. Zients has declared that the site is “fixable” and has promised it will be working by November 30.
According to White House estimates, more than 20 million people have visited HealthCare.Gov, and about 700,000 have submitted applications for insurance. However, these statistics do not specify how many people have actually been able to successfully enroll in a plan.
Congressional Republicans – many of whom were willing to shut down the government over unsuccessful efforts to de-fund or delay the Affordable Care Act – claim that these malfunctions are proof that the individual health care mandate should be abolished or at least delayed. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the website’s failures and are seeking answers about when the problems will be resolved. Ten Democratic Senators sent a letter to Secretary Sebelius asking that the open enrollment period be extended because of the website’s difficulties. The Administration has given individuals six more weeks before there is a penalty for not enrolling in a health care plan (the deadline is moved to March 31), but has not lengthened the open enrollment period. House Republicans are holding hearings to express their concerns about the program. After Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declined to testify at a hearing on October 24, Republicans criticized her heavily – some even calling for her resignation. The hearing on October 24 instead featured several contractors responsible for parts of the exchange system, who blamed each other for the problems. Secretary Sebelius has since agreed to testify in the House on October 30 about the problems with the website.
As an alternative to using the website, President Obama has highlighted that more staff people are being added to call centers with 24-hour phone lines that are available for people who want to enroll over the phone. Interested consumers can get their questions answered in 150 different languages by calling 1-800-318-2596.
Another reason that many health care advocates are concerned about the website failure is that the success of the ACA depends partly on recruiting a balance of young, healthy individuals as well as older people (many of whom are dealing with chronic illnesses and more costly health needs) in order to keep premiums low. If difficulties with the website deter large numbers of healthy millennials from purchasing coverage through ACA, premiums may rise.
Moving forward, President Obama has continued to highlight the fact that the product that the ACA created is a good one, despite the website’s failures so far. The Obama Administration, Department of Health and Human Services and health advocates nationwide will continue pushing towards the goal of signing up 7 million uninsured people by the end of March 2014.
(To learn more about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the individual mandate, read this article from the October 7 Human Needs Report. For more information about the exchanges, see these fact sheets on the Families USA website.)