The Affordable Care Act is in full crisis mode with the Obama administration trying desperately to salvage the website that would finally allow every American to have affordable health insurance, HealthCare.gov.
The site has been plagued by complaints, mostly technical, since its launch on October 1. Here is a rundown of some of the more serious issues brought up by applicants as well as the site’s detractors:
- Pages freeze up and the site crashes while the applicant is registering.
- Error messages appear on screen during sign-up.
- Bugs in the software are slowing down the process.
- Duplicate or incorrect personal information has been transmitted to insurance companies including the applicant’s weight, height, age, Social Security number and health history, thus jeopardizing their privacy.
- It takes days to weeks to fill out an application due to slow activity.
- It has been estimated that just 20,000 people have actually enrolled out of 17 million visitors.
- Users must fill out a profile before being allowed to browse for health care plans.
- The website is unusable for most applicants due to glitches.
As happens with any major project that goes horribly awry, there are plenty of insiders who have attempted to determine the root of the problems. In this case, these include members of the Obama administration who have been unable to accurately explain what went wrong. Members of the Republican Party who have opposed the ACA from the beginning are saying, “I told you so.”
Some have blamed the contractors who built the website. The contractors say it was the government’s fault. Some say it was not exactly the contractors that failed but the equipment they were using to build the site. Let’s take a look at some of these players, how they have responded to HealthCare.gov’s meltdown, and what they are doing to help the situation. We’ll start with the President himself.
The Chief Executive has publicly stated that there is “no sugarcoating” the failure of HealthCare.gov and that no one is madder about it than he. President Obama has posited that the website’s failure has much to do with too many applicants online at the same time, which the servers could not handle. But indications are that the administration may be privately directing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to take responsibility for the site’s failure. In an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the Secretary told the nation that Obama was “blindsided” by the news when it happened. Sebelius said that the President only found out “the first couple of days” after the site went live. She publicly apologized, and promised to make amends.
While Secretary Sebelius has seemingly taken the fall, she indicated that a portion of the problems with the website occurred because of poor performance and organization by the agencies that were hired to build HealthCare.gov. “We [had] hoped that they had their A-team on the table from the start,” Sebelius said.
According to USA Today, the President has tapped Jeffrey Zients to organize and lead a team to clean up the mess. They hope to get HealthCare.gov working smoothly by late November. Critics have asked why the administration did not have their “A-Team” on the table in the first place. There has been no answer.
Responding to Secretary Sebelius’ assertion that the her department didn’t have an “A-Team” building the Obamacare website, the contractors hired by the administration went on the defensive, telling a congressional committee that the disaster was the government’s fault. Officials testified on Capitol Hill that last-minute changes by the federal agency overseeing the project made it impossible to fully and properly test the system before it went live October 1.
The Republican Party
Members of the Republican Party are saying, “I told you so,” especially because no one can fix the problem and the original price tag for ObamaCare has skyrocketed. From day one, the Republican House of Representatives led by Speaker John Boehner has argued that the price tag on providing health care and specialized treatment for every American was too high for the people to fund. Obama argued that he could not envision leaving Americans uninsured because they can’t afford it. Former Florida Governor and 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush warned that Obamacare is “flawed to the core,” which most of his party also believes. But the Tea Party’s instigation of the government shutdown last month and tying its cancellation to defunding the President’s health care law clearly did not help their cause. According to Arizona Senator John McCain, the effort was a “fool’s errand” and all it has resulted in is more acrimony, confusion and squabbling within the party.
Journalists and Pundits
Some journalists have suggested that the architecture of the system was inadequate. While David Auerbach of Slate.com says this is a factor, he also blames the administration for conducting good old-fashioned Washington politics and contracting with four or five different IT companies with connections to the administration. At least one of them, Booz Allen, who had been connected to NSA fugitive Edward Snowden, now admits that their firm outsourced the project to another company. Auerbach calls it “cronyism, bad management, and too many cooks.”