The administration appears to have finally turned the corner on fixing the healthcare.gov website, removing a major impediment to consumers who wish to purchase insurance on the exchange. The White House announced early Sunday that about 1 million people had signed up for insurance through the troubled portal.
I took a turn through the site myself and while it’s not easy to navigate in some ways, at least it’s not crashing and burning.
More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare before a December 24 deadline for consumers seeking healthcare plans that begin Jan. 1, the Obama administration said early Sunday.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a blog post that more than 975,000 people enrolled in a qualified health plan through the federal marketplace in December, following a rocky rollout in October.
Detailed demographics were not released.
Tavenner called the late surge “welcome.”
“Our HealthCare.gov enrollment nearly doubled in the days before the January 1 coverage deadline compared to the first few weeks of the month,” she said. “December enrollment so far is over 7 times that of October and November. In part, this was because we met our marks on improving HealthCare.gov: the site supported 83,000 concurrent users on December 23rd alone.”
Tavenner said administration officials expect to see enrollment ramp up through the six-month open enrollment period, “much like other historic implementation efforts we’ve seen in Massachusetts and Medicare Part D.”
The administration said Friday that the HealthCare.gov website adequately handled a massive surge of Internet traffic ahead of last Tuesday’s deadline.
“There’s no question that, over this past weekend, Monday, and Tuesday, HealthCare.gov met the mark and did exactly what it was supposed to do–helping Americans from across the country find secure, quality health insurance coverage at an affordable price,” CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said in a statement.
Bataille said that in the four days leading up to the Dec. 24 enrollment deadline, response times averaged half a second, and error rates were at less than 1 percent.
Of course, if the website were the only thing wrong with Obamacare, there would be smooth sailing from here on out. But the fact is, no one is sure what is going to happen on January 1, when coverage starts for millions of Medicaid patients as well as those who purchased insurance on the exchanges.
As far as Medicaid is concerned. a “glitch” in the healthcare.gov system is preventing the state of Iowa from determining the eligibility of 16,000 people who were told they were covered:
Nearly 16,000 Iowans who tried to apply for coverage via the trouble-plagued federal health-insurance website are being told to apply separately through the state Department of Human Services.
The Friday afternoon announcement is the latest bout of bad news about the website, which is a key part of the Affordable Care Act.
The announcement affects people who entered their information into healthcare.gov and received a notice that they might qualify for Medicaid. The federal computer system was supposed to transfer their applications to a state computer system, but that transfer has been complicated by technical problems. The timing is critical, because the new insurance coverage is supposed to take effect on New Year’s Day, which is Wednesday.
State officials say they can’t guarantee that people in this situation will have coverage if they need to see a doctor before the mess is untangled.
The affected people should be receiving emails and letters about the situation from the state. They are being urged to reapply at the state website, dhsservices.iowa.gov, or by calling 1-855-889-7985.
The federal website’s determination that applicants might qualify for Medicaid coverage was only preliminary. The Iowa Department of Human Services needs to determine which of the 16,000 people actually are eligible for Medicaid or related programs. Iowa administrators estimate that about 1,400 of them make too much money to qualify for the public programs. In such cases, the applicants would be sent back to the federal system to apply for private insurance policies with public subsidies to help cover the premiums, state officials said. It’s not clear how long that could take.
The White House and their allies are gearing up for a massive propaganda campaign, complete with real-life stories of Americans who will no doubt be weepy with gratitude that they now have coverage.
If Wednesday’s start of coverage for millions of Americans doesn’t go as planned — so far, little about Obamacare has — the airwaves will be dominated with stories of complications and dropped insurance, and President Barack Obama will once again have to explain what went wrong.
But Democrats still see this moment as their best chance yet to show voters why the embattled law is worth protecting by featuring accounts of people visiting the doctor for the first time in years, receiving treatment for a nagging ailment or buying medication that they could never afford before.
White House officials and congressional aides say they have been lining up consumers and vetting their stories to tell through videos, blogs, local news, press conference calls and Twitter feeds, including those of celebrities. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius kicks off the effort with op-eds running Sunday in more than three dozen papers.
“Until now, the only thing you could really market is ‘Susie Smith saved $100 on her premium and now is covered.’ That’s intangible to people,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “But when she goes to the doctor and addresses a blood pressure problem she didn’t know she had, that is a powerful story.”
White House aides acknowledge the task of reversing the negative public opinion on Obamacare is a long-term project, one that goes well beyond promoting personal stories.
Are Republicans smart enough to counter this propaganda with nightmare stories about sky-high premiums, the cancellation of perfectly good insurance policies, website errors, and other tragic experiences that ordinary people have had with Obamacare? Democrats couldn’t accuse them of cherry picking bad news when they’re cherry picking good news.
This is a long-term war to be played out over the coming years. What I don’t see yet is a commitment from the national Republican Party to engage the resources necessary to counter the Democrats move for move. There doesn’t appear to be a plan in place which means they’ll be improvising on the fly. That just won’t cut it.
With the Obamacare website now largely operational, the first phase of the battle is over. But unless the GOP stays on its toes, they are likely to be buried by the administration PR machine.