Obamacare: Mended, but Not Fixed

The health-care exchanges are functioning, though much work needs to be done
Photograph by Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images

The federal government says healthcare.gov is working for “the vast majority of users.” Now comes the more important part.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has plenty of numbers to back up its claim that the website is mended. It cites more than 400 bug fixes, pages that load in one second (down from eight) and crash less than 1 percent of the time (down from 6 percent), and a website that’s functioning more than 90 percent of the time, up from 43 percent a month ago. The site can now handle 50,000 users at once, twice as many as two weeks ago, and as many as 800,000 a day can sign up through it.

The software repair measurements, however, miss the crucial metric: the number of people who sign up for health insurance on the federal exchange. The test of the healthcare.gov fixes will be the extent to which they accelerate those sign-ups, which reached 100,000 in November, according to Bloomberg News.

The Congressional Budget Office projected 7 million people would enroll for 2014. Until January, when the December enrollment numbers come out, the public won’t know how well the website is working after the latest changes.

And that’s only half the challenge. The purpose of healthcare.gov isn’t just to let people shop for coverage; it must also transmit consumers’ information to insurance companies. The government won’t say how much of that information is still inaccurate, incomplete, or simply getting lost in transmission. Meanwhile, the part of the website that processes payments to insurers has yet to be built.

That could be a bigger problem than website pages that load slowly. Insurers have raised the prospect of people going to a doctor or hospital next year only to find out that they’re not signed up for the health plan they thought covered them. Or what if people end up buying coverage based on a federal subsidy that turns out to have been miscalculated? If Democrats think the past two months were unpleasant, just wait.


    To read Ezra Klein on 23andMe and Cass R. Sunstein on inequality, go to: Bloomberg.com/view

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