A great column title is a beautiful thing. It took a bit of time for clever me to construct this month’s title, but very little to learn that it had been used before – to critique John McCain’s presidential campaign. I hate when that happens. Nevertheless, it is just so perfect for today’s discussion that I must recycle it.
In the annals of epic technology failures, the initial open enrollment on HealthCare.gov must rank at the top of the list. The “glitches” (as former HHS Secretary Sebelius referred to them) are too numerous to list in their entirety. Rather, let us focus on several that are now bearing a very sour fruit for enrollees.
Approximately 279,000 enrollees risk losing their tax credits because the system could not verify their income. In fact, the government was unable to determine the income of nearly 1.2 million of the 5.5 million who purchased coverage through the site.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), one million enrollees’ citizenship could not be verified at the time open enrollment closed in April. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — the law also known as Obamacare — prohibits people living in the United States illegally from getting coverage from the site, but that could not be verified in real time either. By August that number was down to 310,000. About 115,000 of the remaining group missed a Sept. 5 deadline to provide documentation for their citizenship or immigration status.
All of that is just the tip of the “HealthCare.gov version 1.0” failure iceberg. Benefit advisors across the country are still swapping “I can top that” stories of their interactions with a system that was clearly not ready for prime time – despite the outrageous amount of money spent to build the site.
Against this background it is unsurprising that the federal government has tightly drawn the blackout drapes around this year’s “new and improved” website and processes. The folks at CMS must have missed President Obama’s memo on Jan. 21, 2009, which stated that his, “…administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”
Will the public be privy to any reports on how this new and improved site will work? Nope. CMS notified insurers that it would require, “all testers to acknowledge the confidentiality of this process to access the testing environment.” There was no such requirement in place for version 1.0.
Testers are warned not to “…use, disclose, describe, post to a public form, or in any way share Test Data (sic.) with any person or entity, including but not limited to the media.” The CMS email (reviewed by The Wall Street Journal) explains that the testing “involves access to proprietary issuer information and secure systems.”) Surely this cannot be what the President meant in that memo.
Since HealthCare.gov has been marketed like an infomercial, let’s borrow a phrase from their lexicon: “But wait . . . There’s more!” Will premiums for the next open enrollment period be available in advance? Nope. HealthCare.gov won’t display premiums for 2015 plans until the second week of November. That would be just in time for the new open enrollment period that begins Nov. 15. It is also a week after the midterm elections. As Dana Carvey’s Church Lady would have said, “Well isn’t that convenient?”
On Feb. 13 of this year, the President said that his is the “most transparent administration” in history. The HealthCare.gov website and the coming year’s premiums are sequestered behind the opaque wall devised by CMS. Politicians are hardwired to take credit for anything remotely positive and to bury anything negative. If the administration thought they had tamed the website tiger or that rates were going to be dramatically lower, they would be shouting from the top of the Washington Monument.
Instead, we get the opacity of nope.
See also: Good news for benefit advisors