When the federal health-insurance exchange first launched and it was a disaster, the White House blamed the issues on unanticipated demand and then finally admitted there were problems with the site.
Slowly, insurers, consumers and reporters alike realised how bad the issues were. They were much more than glitches.
Soon after the public realised the extent of the problems, the administration told Americans the site would be fixed by the end of November.
That date is quickly approaching and the site is only marginally better. Nevertheless, the administration says it is confident it will be ready on time.
In the first month alone, fewer than 50,000 people enrolled on the federal marketplace. If the site is ready in the next few weeks, that won’t matter. People will sign on, view their options and choose their plans.
The problem comes if the website isn’t ready on time. For the first month, most people seemed to assume that the White House would figure it out. They wouldn’t let Obama’s greatest legislative achievement collapse under an IT failure. That is starting to become a distinct possibility though.
If HealthCare.gov isn’t ready by December 1st, there isn’t an easy fix. Delaying the individual mandate is the obvious move so that Americans aren’t penalised for the government’s screwup. But that is only a small issue.
What about the millions of Americans whose health plans have been cancelled and now can’t purchase new ones? Come January 1st, they don’t have health insurance. What happens to them?
That is the question that lawmakers need to start thinking about. Instead, they are playing politics as usual. In Congress, the House is pushing a bill that would grandfather in all plans up until January 1st, 2013. Of course, insurers have already cancelled most of those plans and cannot simply perform a 180 degree turn. Even if they could, the legislation only allows insurers to offer those plans again, it does not require them to do so. Millions of Americans would still be out of luck if this legislation became law
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) takes that bill one step further by grandfathering in those plans and requiring insurers to continue offering them. They don’t have a choice. This fulfils Obama’s promise, but it is also a massive government intervention into the insurance market. If this bill had any chance at passing, insurers would freak out.
The real problem is that both pieces of legislation were introduced for political purposes. House Republicans want to rub it in Obama’s face that he lied while Landrieu and other red state Democrats want to score free points with their constituents without actually putting the law at risk.
The administration has been playing politics as well. It has been infuriatingly vague about the number of enrollments and the status of the website. Obama’s apology was insincere and the White House is supposedly looking at administrative fixes to the law to help those who lost coverage and will pay more.
No one seems to know exactly what those fixes will be, but the administration is supposedly hard at work figuring them out.
What’s missing from all of this is any sort of a plan if the website doesn’t work. We’re hurtling towards a potential disaster and everyone in Washington is looking for ways to score political points.
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