On Obamacare “Improvements”

Before reading this story and the excerpt that immediately follows, ensure first that your expectations are as low as they can possibly be.

Done? Good. Now read:

Administration officials are preparing to announce Sunday that they have met their Saturday deadline for improving HealthCare.gov, according to government officials, in part by expanding the site’s capacity so that it can handle 50,000 users at once. But they have yet to meet all their internal goals for repairing the federal health-care site, and it will not become clear how many consumers it can accommodate until more people try to use it.

Government and outside technical employees worked through the night on the latest upgrade, intended to increase the Web site’s capacity for consumers seeking to go through the early stages of registering for an account and then logging in. The upgrade was successfully completed about 4 a.m. Saturday, according to a government official familiar with the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe details that the administration was not publicly disclosing.

But it was not immediately apparent, the official said, whether the improvement meant that the site can now meet one of the Obama administration’s internal goals — for 80,000 people per hour to be able to register and 320,000 per hour to be able to log in — and added that the overnight tinkering was, at least for now, causing a slight increase in error messages on the site.

An official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the federal health insurance exchange, said the site’s true capacity is somewhat murky because workers need to see how it performs under “weekday traffic volumes” when demand is at its peak.

Even with rock-bottom expectations, it is hard to be impressed by any of this. To be sure, I imagine that the website will be substantially improved over time, but that is only because it is difficult to see how its performance could possibly be any worse than it has been ever since the rollout of Obamacare. So the improvements we may see don’t amount to anything worth bragging over, and unless the above represents a lot of spin from the White House that is designed to lower expectations in advance of a better-than-anticipated performance by the website, we won’t see much in the way of substantial improvements anytime soon, despite the president’s “tech surge” to fix the website.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration appears set to miss today’s deadline for improving the website. And although we are now seeing “‘hundreds of enrollments’ a day,” instead of mere dozens, these recent stats still represent a subpar performance for the website. And people are still having problems. Lots of them:

Guy Dicharry of Los Lunas, N.M., said he had been in limbo at the identity-verification stage since Oct. 5, despite giving the site personal information several times so it can confirm his income. He hasn’t heard back about a paper application submitted Nov. 1.

“This has been botched and is not getting fixed. If it’s not fixed, I’ll be ringing in 2014 as a newly uninsured person. I suspect that is the opposite of what the ACA was supposed to achieve,” said Mr. Dicharry, who described himself as a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. Because of their age and income, Mr. Dicharry and his wife stand to gain valuable subsidies toward the cost of coverage, but only if he buys it through the website.

Ronald Gallagher of Paradise Valley, Ariz., said he had been helping his daughter shop for coverage. After 16 hours over four days starting Oct. 1, they were told her identity was verified and she could pick a plan. But when they logged in to the website, it said her application was “In Progress.”

After failing to get help from a call center, father and daughter filled out an application over the phone in early November, but they still haven’t received a letter telling what insurance plans she qualifies for. “So far, nothing the government has done has worked,” Mr. Gallagher said.

Even when people successfully enroll, insurers say they sometimes get incorrect data. Ms. Bataille, the government spokeswoman, said officials have seen “marked improvements” in the information transmitted to insurers but “we know there are still issues that remain.” An HHS official also said that there had been improvements in identity verification, but that the agency knew it wasn’t fully fixed.

Mr. Lewis of Maine Community Health Options also worried about a larger volume of applicants, especially since insurers have now been told to find ways to process applications that come in from people as late as Dec. 23 in time for their coverage to begin Jan. 1, rather than a previous Dec. 15 deadline.

If “there’s an avalanche on that last date, I don’t know if the system will be able to support all that,” he said.

The president still believes that people trust him, facts be damned:

A CNN Poll of Polls complied Thursday showed the president’s approval rating at 41%, near a low of his five years in office. The numbers have dipped as Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, faces problems with its website and the number of Americans whose health plans are being canceled.

Obama has taken responsibility for the website’s flaws, saying he should have been told earlier about the serious issues with HealthCare.gov’s digital infrastructure. He’s also apologized for his vow that people who liked their plans could keep them.

In Friday’s interview, Obama said he was looking for answers soon on why the rollout failed so spectacularly.

“Obviously my most recent concern has been that my website’s not working,” Obama said. “We’re evaluating why it is exactly that I didn’t know soon enough that it wasn’t going to work the way it needed to. But my priority now has been to just make sure that it works.”

Note that sentence: “We’re evaluating why it is exactly that I didn’t know soon enough that it wasn’t going to work the way it needed to.” Well, one reason might be that the president, per Todd Purdum’s description, is not exactly an engaged manager or leader. So perhaps the mystery behind the breakdown in information processing in the administration would be solved if the president of the United States took the opportunity to look at himself in a mirror at some point.

Meanwhile, Timothy Egan puts on his tinfoil hat, and informs us that the reason the website signups are working in some states have to do with the “fact” that there are “no Koch-brothers-sponsored saboteurs trying to discourage people from getting health care.” Of course, he provides no proof whatsoever that there are “Koch-brothers-sponsored saboteurs trying to discourage people from getting health care,” but I don’t imagine that either Timothy Egan or the New York Times care much about proof when they are busy letting their ideological flags fly. The rest of the column is equally muddled, confused, and populated with incoherent side rants–including the absurd claim that “a major political party and its media arm [are] so actively rooting for fellow Americans to lose.” Not that I expect Egan to understand this, but Republicans live in the United States, are Americans, and therefore very likely don’t want Americans to “lose,” if only because they might be among the Americans who “lose.” Of course, Egan seems to think that “disagreeing with the likes of Timothy Egan” means “actively rooting for fellow Americans to lose.” And apparently, so does the Times editorial staff. I don’t know how this claptrap makes it into the editorial pages of a newspaper that likes to think of itself as the most respectable publication since Gutenberg printed the Bible, but there you have it; another indication that Big Media is giving up the ghost intellectually and–if you read the comments–so are a number of Times readers.

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