This is not the Obamacare Exchange you were looking for

LOS ANGELES, October 9, 2013—The Healthcare.gov federal exchange was taken down last weekend for an overhaul to cure the “glitches” users encountered when attempting to access or sign up on the site. This is merely another example of the poorly planned and executed debacle that is Obamacare.

Joanne Peters, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) optimistic spokesperson touted the opening week of the exchanges as a huge success, with 8.6 million unique visitors accessing the site. However, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew cannot give exact numbers on how many users have actually successfully completed applications and received insurance.

When The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart asked Secy Sebelius how many people had actually enrolled, Sebelius responded, “Fully enrolled? I can’t tell you, because I don’t know. We are talking applications on the web, on the phone, we’ll be giving monthly reports.” To his credit, Stewart pushed her further on not only the numbers, but the individual mandate not being delayed when the employer mandate received a pass. Sebelius continued to dance and dodge, without giving a clear answer.

Rather than dodge and dance, Treas. Secy Lew simply refused to answer Chris Wallace’s questions on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: If I already had doubts — somebody already had doubts about the government’s ability to oversee a sixth of the economy, shouldn’t this just add to my doubts?

TREAS. SECY.: You know, Chris, the — I actually think that is not what’s happened this week. What happened this week is we saw seven million people rush to go onto the Web page to find out what are their choices in this new marketplace to buy affordable health care.


SEE RELATED: Like comparing Apple to Obamacare


WALLACE: How many actually signed up, sir?

LEW: You know, they have six months to sign up. This is a big decision. We never expected —

WALLACE: How many signed up?

LEW: — I — I don’t have the exact number.  

Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post did her usual positive spin with the deceptive headline, “Rush of interest continues on insurance Web sites”, but the actual copy tells a different story. “‘Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,’ said one insurance industry official, who like many in the industry, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for possibly offending the Obama administration. ‘We are talking single digits.’”

Covered California, the exchange for California, initially claimed that its website had received 5 million hits on October 1. They had to revise that number down 87 percent, to 645,000. That’s not even one-quarter of the population in Los Angeles, the state’s largest city.

The icing on the cake was KUSI-TV in San Diego reporting that not one policy has been sold on the California exchange.

This does not reflect well on the supposed great need for affordable healthcare. One self-employed single mom told The Communities, “I’m still waiting to make sure there aren’t any glitches in the system.”

She, and others, may be waiting for quite some time.

For those who were industrious (or lucky) enough to complete the enrollment on Healthcare.gov last week, there is more troubling news. On Friday, CNBC reported that 99 percent or as few as 1 in 100 applications contained enough information to enroll the applicant in a plan. Experts are blaming “corrupted batches” containing incomplete data. CNBC interviewed Dan Mendelson, CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health about the 1-in-100 rate. Mendelson’s opinion: “This is not a traffic issue. Right now, the systems aren’t working.”

Leave it to an executive to state the obvious.

Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle, along with some IT experts interviewed by Reuters UK, also have their doubts that high traffic has anything to do with the glitches or the lack of hard numbers. The real issue is poor infrastructure design.

From the Reuters piece:

“‘Adding capacity sounds great until you realize that if you didn’t design it right that won’t help,’ said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality. ‘The architecture of the software may limit how much you can add on to it. I suspect they’ll have to reconfigure a lot of it.’”

A check of Covered California demonstrated the difficulties. Loading the home page was without incident, but clicking “Start Here” to begin the process of entering information brings the proverbial hourglass. After backing out a minute later and reloading, the “Start Here” went through, but “Preview Plans” prompted another hang up, this one for about two minutes. The page eventually loaded, but it was blank. Refreshing the page made the information appear. 

Entering information about income, location, and persons to be covered went smoothly. However, three attempts to find doctors or hospitals within a 10-mile radius — an area that contains both doctors and hospitals — brought the message “No matching records found”. So, the information is either not in their databases, or the site is not able to properly access the needed information.

It took approximately 10-15 minutes to get even that far.

How is one supposed to make an informed decision without even knowing whether doctors or hospitals are covered? This, along with the obvious page load issues, is a huge fail; but this is minimal compared to the reported experiences on the federal site and other state exchanges.

It is noteworthy that the Covered California home page indicated the site would be down for maintenance from midnight Wednesday October 9 to 6:00 a.m. Another clear indication that there is more wrong with this system than right.

Like Sarah Kliff, Ezra Klein has been cheerleading Obamacare since its passage. Now, even he has to admit that this launch does not reflect well on the system, and the Obama administration trying to compare itself to Apple merely rings hollow.

“But the Obama administration doesn’t have a basically working product that would be improved by a software update. They have a Web site that almost nobody has been able to successfully use. If Apple launched a major new product that functioned as badly as Obamacare’s online insurance marketplace, the tech world would be calling for Tim Cook’s head.”

The Republican case becomes more credible the longer the government remains shut down, the exchange problems continue, and regular Americans come face-to-face with the true cost of Obamacare. President Obama and the Democrats would rather hold the government hostage (something they accuse the Republicans of doing) than admit they have an unworkable and untenable law that is not only wasting American’s time, but costing the country money that we can ill afford to lose.

What is the problem with delaying the individual mandate for one year until you have a system that actually lives up to the administration’s claims? This is a legitimate question that no one in the Obama administration really wants to answer.

In April, Sen. Max Baucus used the term “Train wreck” to describe the Obamacare implementation. No one knew until now what an understatement that was. If the shoddy exchange rollout continues apace, we will face a huge fallout of more uninsured Americans than when this crusade first started, on top of the wholesale destruction of the health insurance industry.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for Examiner.com, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (http://asthegirlturns.com).

Contact Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

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