During the design and passage of the Affordable Care Act, its architects and supporters described a fantastic new system for buying insurance. You would go onto a website and enter some simple information about yourself. The computer system would fetch data about you from various places -- it would verify income with the Internal Revenue Service, check with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that you were a citizen or legal resident, and tap a database of employer coverage to make sure that you were not already being offered affordable coverage (defined as 9.5 percent of your income or less) by your employer. Provided you passed all those tests, it would calculate what subsidies you were eligible for, and then apply that discount automatically to the hundreds of possible policies being offered on the exchange. You would see the neatly listed prices and choose one, buying it as easily as you buy an airline ticket on Travelocity.
Before I went to business school, I used to work in an IT consultancy, and setting up this system sounded like an enormous job to me -- a five- to eight-year job, given government procurement rules, not a three-year rush special. But Obamacare's stewards seemed very confident, so I assumed that they must have it covered.