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Richard Epstein writes on the opening healthcare problems.
It is now common knowledge that the bugs in the Obamacare website have been embedded in the system from the start. For the past two weeks, not only have many individuals found it impossible to access the website, but they are often frozen in place once they pass through the initial portal. The problems will just get worse. The current law requires extensive communications between enrollees and their chosen insurance carriers, as well as massive interaction with both federal and state organizations. As a result, web traffic builds up behind bottlenecks and leads to massive frustration. As I warned last May, watching Obamacare unravel is a painful business.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has tried to put a positive gloss on the messy situation with the dubious observation that the system glitches are due to heavy consumer demand. Her statement subtly implies that the nation’s alleged need for the program is the cause of its momentary glitches. She claims that things are “getting better by the day.” Not so. The government site was not built for heavy traffic, nor was it tested before going live. It is no mean feat to try to fix a balky computer system on the fly.
As a result of these problems, calls to delay the implementation of the individual mandate are now reaching a fever pitch, such as Peggy Noonan’s to delay the individual mandate a year. The bugs need to be worked out before ordinary people are slapped with fines for failing to enroll in the derelict system before the penalty deadline now set for March 31, 2014.
Thus far, the Obama Administration has been mum on the sources and extent of the difficulties. But make no mistake about it: they reflect the broader structural weaknesses of the program, which were hidden from view by the disastrous launch. Nonetheless, the system’s basic design is flawed, and its gaffes will become only more apparent as implementation moves forward. …
Shikha Dalmia thinks things are worse then is commonly understood.
By all accounts, the roll out of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges has been a fiasco of epic proportions. But diehard supporters claim that this is a minor roadblock that won’t affect the law’s long-term future. “Obamacare is here,” lectured liberal columnist Eugene Robinson. “Get used to it.”
Robinson might be right. Then again when funny man Jon Stewart echoes Tea Party “wackos” to demand a one-year delay of the individual mandate, the lynchpin of the edifice, you know all is not well. And Stewart is hardly alone. CNN anchor Wolfe Blitzer is also recommending a delay.
The reality is that the way President Obama ramrodded this law through Congress has left him very little margin for error. The next couple of months will make or break the program.
Two weeks into the launch and its problems only keep multiplying. Consumers still can’t log into the federal exchange website, let alone compare plans, apply for the promised subsidies and buy coverage. The site—whose staggering $634 million construction cost is more than that of LinkedIn and Spotify combined—has already been shut down once for repairs, but the problems persist.
Thing are so bad that the administration won’t even reveal basic information about enrollment rates. Nor will it make its IT folks available to explain the technical glitches, insisting that “pent up demand” is overwhelming capacity.
But experts whom Reuters consulted believe that the architecture of the websites is fundamentally flawed and needs to be radically overhauled. For example, when individuals “apply” for coverage, the website automatically opens over 90 separate files and plugins to stream information from the user’s computer. The flood of traffic paralyzes the connection. …
Megan McArdle says the law needs a drop dead date.
Exactly how bad are things on the federal health-care exchanges? The working assumption among most journalists, including me, is that they would be fixed in a few weeks — that is, by the end of this week. But yesterday’s New York Times brought a deeply reported piece from Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen. There is too much information in the piece for an excerpt to do it justice, so I’ll summarize, with some editorial comments — but you should read the whole thing to get the full flavor:
– One person familiar with the project says it’s only about 70 percent of the way there, and has heard estimates of somewhere between two weeks to two months to fix it. As a programmer I know points out, “two weeks to two months” is the programming equivalent of “40 days and 40 nights”: “A long time, but I have no way of knowing how long.” When I used to hear estimates like that, I used to assume it would be coming in on the late end of that range, earliest.
– The administration delayed writing major rules until after the 2012 election, because it didn’t want to give Republicans any ammunition for their campaign. (This actually was noted at the time: “When it comes to health care, delaying regulations could help the president politically by avoiding discussion of the controversial health reform law. But that makes life difficult for states and industries that need to prepare for the coming changes,” wrote the National Journal. But most of us didn’t understand just how badly this was affecting implementation.)
– Despite evidence to the contrary, the administration kept insisting that everything was absolutely on track to launch Oct. 1.
– This passage is so extraordinary that it requires excerpting:
“Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site, HealthCare.gov, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.”
Suddenly, two months sounds optimistic. ..
Michael Astrue who was HHS General Counsel and Commissioner of Social Security says these problems are not mere “glitches.”
… The department will surely ameliorate some problems in the coming months simply by buying additional capacity and fixing sloppy code. More enduring problems, however, will continue to plague HHS.
HHS blundered when it allowed states to rely on self-attestation to verify eligibility for public subsidies in states that built their own exchanges. Experience with the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs strongly suggests that in states that rely on self-attestation a high percentage of those who receive subsidies—probably 20-25 percent—will be ineligible. HHS has refused to explain how it will recoup payments from ineligible recipients. The official responsible for preventing this waste, fraud, and abuse, the HHS inspector general, has been silent about this problem as well.
HHS also blundered when it built its computer system in violation of the Privacy Act. In short, if you enroll in a health plan through an exchange, family members and recent ex-spouses can access the system and change your coverage without the legally required written permission. Traditional consumer and privacy advocates, such as Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union, have taken a dive on this issue, and again the HHS inspector general has remained silent.
HHS opened the door to large-scale fraud by providing funding for tens of thousands of “navigators”—people who are supposed to persuade the uninsured to apply for coverage and then assist them in the application process. Instead of hiring well-screened, well-trained, and well-supervised workers, HHS decided to build political support for the Affordable Care Act by pouring money into supportive organizations so they could launch poorly trained workers into their communities without obtaining criminal background checks or creating systems for monitoring their activities. …
We start our weekend with late night humor from Andrew Malcolm.
Letterman: The Washington Redskins are under a lot of pressure to change their name because so many people are offended by the word ‘Washington.’
Leno: A CBS News Poll says 72% of Americans blame Republicans for the government shutdown while 61% blame the Democrats. See, this is why we have a debt crisis. That adds up to 133%.
Letterman: Have you seen the new $100 bill? A lot of people are upset. First of all, it’s only worth $10. And Ben Franklin’s face has been replaced by Ben Affleck.
Fallon: A new study says American workers lack the problem-solving skills of workers in other countries. Asked about that, American workers said, “But what should we do about it?”
Leno: Syrian President Assad says he may run for reelection next year. Says he’s looked over the election results for 2014 and they look good for him.