October 15, 2013

MEGAN MCARDLE: ObamaCare 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.

And then it gets worse. Megan concludes: “At what point do we admit that the system just isn’t working well enough, roll it back and delay the whole thing for a year?” About two weeks ago. But neither Obama, nor the Democrats, nor the press can admit that Obama made a mistake, so expect this thing to fester for a while longer.

Related: Obamacare’s Website Is Crashing Because It Doesn’t Want You To Know How Costly Its Plans Are. “A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away. . . . It’s quite possible that much of this disaster could have been avoided if the Obama administration had been willing to be open with the public about the degree to which Obamacare escalates the cost of health insurance. If they had, then a number of the problems with the exchange’s software architecture would have been avoided. But that would require admitting that the ‘Affordable Care Act’ was not accurately named.”

UPDATE: From Charlie Martin, a HealthCare.gov I-told-you-so.

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