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Policy: Technology

EXAMINER EDITORIAL: Tech ills may be the least of Obamacare's problems

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Editorial,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Health Care,Healthcare.gov,Jeffrey Zients,Technology,Health Care Exchanges

Jeff Zients, the former acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget who was brought in to oversee fixes to the troubled Obamacare website Healthcare.gov, insisted during a Nov. 22 conference call that the "tech surge" team would meet President Obama’s goal of having the site working smoothly for a “vast majority of users” by Nov. 30.

But a flurry of other news indicates that, not only do digital programming woes still afflict Healthcare.gov, but even more fundamental problems facing the broader health care program will persist, even if the technological challenges can be overcome.

To start, on the same call in which Zients said everything was on track, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Julie Bataille announced that the government was delaying the deadline for individuals to pick health care plans that start next year. Instead of Dec. 15, individuals will now have until Dec. 23 to pick a plan. The compressed timeline is likely to be another headache for insurers.

Asked whether this change complicates matters for insurers, Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans, told the Washington Examiner that "it makes it more challenging to process enrollments in time for coverage to begin on January 1.”

The delay comes on top of Nov 19 testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee from Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer at CMS, that as much as 40 percent of Obamacare’s technology system has yet to be built. This includes the crucially important system that’s supposed to transfer hundreds of billions of federal subsidy dollars to insurers.

Problems confronting Obamacare go beyond technology, however. California touted a new report on Nov. 21 that found enrollments on the state Obamacare exchange were up in November, compared with October. But a deeper look at the numbers found that those signing up for insurance were disproportionately older. Those aged 55 to 64 comprised 34 percent of sign ups, even though they account for just 11 percent of California’s population.

Obamacare’s success depends on the ability of insurers to attract enough premium-paying younger and healthier enrollees to offset the cost of covering older and sicker participants, particularly those with preexisting conditions. Although rates are already locked in for 2014, this necessity could trigger a massive spike in premiums for 2015.

That’s why it came as no surprise when the Obama administration also announced that it was delaying the start of next year’s open enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15 – conveniently after the 2014 congressional elections in which Obamacare is expected to weigh down Democrats.

Beyond the potential for skyrocketing rates, Americans can expect increasing difficulties in accessing care-givers once new plans begin kicking in come January. “Obama promised Americans could keep their doctors,” the Associated Press reported. “But experts say in many states, the new plans appear to offer a narrow choice of hospitals and doctors.” Technological failures. Shifted deadlines. Fears of higher premium rates and reduced access to care. Just another week in the life of Obamacare.

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