With the U.S. government back in working order, Congress is training its sights on something else that has encountered tough going — the Obama administration’s new online health insurance marketplace.
Nearly three weeks into its launch, HealthCare.gov is not working properly. People are having trouble logging in. The registration process is too onerous. Frustrating delays or cutoffs can occur at any stage. And when consumers manage to create accounts and actually purchase insurance, the site sometimes sends the wrong information to insurers.
No one expected a glitch-free rollout, and at first it seemed that high demand may have crashed the portal. But the problems now appear severe and long-term. News reports have revealed a process that was underfunded, rushed and put together without the technical expertise required for such a monumental task.
Those are reasons for the opening flop but hardly excuses. The insurance exchanges are a core provision of the Affordable Care Act, and the administration needs to get this right.
Failure to do so could have severe consequences, especially in states like Missouri and Kansas, where GOP obstruction has caused thousands of uninsured citizens to fix their hopes on the federal marketplace.
States had the option of creating their own insurance exchanges. Most of those that did are outperforming the federal exchange. State-designed marketplaces in places like Washington, New York, California and even heavily Republican Kentucky have enrolled about 150,000 persons so far, according to The Washington Post.
The federal government hasn’t released any figures yet, but the number of consumers who have actually signed up for insurance is thought to be much lower than hoped for.
Troubled beginnings for big, new Web-based programs are hardly novel. The portal for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, was so clunky that its launch in 2005 was delayed for three weeks. That was a Republican-backed entitlement program, but Democrats helped get it up and running.
Consumers would benefit greatly if Republicans in Washington and state legislatures would take that posture now. The exchanges are intended to create options for the 10 percent of Americans who aren’t covered by a government program, like Medicare, or by an employer-provided health plan. Many of these people have been blackballed by insurance companies because of pre-existing conditions. Others work at low-paying jobs and can’t afford policies on the open market; the exchanges will provide subsidies.
Successful exchanges would bring tremendous relief and financial security to millions of Americans and save the health care system and federal government millions of dollars now spent to treat uninsured patients.
Unfortunately, Republican politicians in Missouri and some other states are so blinded by an irrational hatred of “Obamacare” they are openly committed to seeing the exchanges fail. Voters need to let them know that is unacceptable.
Already we are looking at a situation where insurance policies are likely to be more expensive in Missouri than in most other states, precisely because of obstacles set up to impede the state’s participation in the federal exchange.
The Affordable Care Act has already changed health care in many positive ways. It has encouraged some hospitals and physician groups to provide better care at lower costs. It has promoted innovation and has stopped the worst abuses of the insurance industry. But the plan won’t work without smooth-functioning exchanges. Supporters and opponents owe it to consumers to do whatever it takes to get HealthCare.gov up and running.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.