No Virginia, Obamacare Is NOT Getting Better

A lot of Obamacare supporters seem to believe that problems with the website have at long last come to an end, and that as a consequence, implementation of the Affordable (ha!) Care Act will go more smoothly from here on out. They further believe that Republicans will no longer be able to use the issue of health care reform as a political club with which to bash Democrats. This post by Paul Krugman is just one example of of the newfound confidence of Obamacare supporters.

An actual examination of the facts, however, shows that Obamacare isn’t even close to being out of the woods just yet. The problems with the website continue, and those problems are negatively impacting the rest of the implementation process for the ACA.

We learn, for example, that the enrollment process is still plagued by bugs:

Bob Shlora of Alpharetta, Ga., was supposed to be a belated Obamacare success story. After weeks of trying, the 61-year-old told ABC News he fully enrolled in a new health insurance plan through the federal marketplace over the weekend, and received a Humana policy ID number to prove it.

But two days later, his insurer has no record of the transaction, Shlora said, even though his account on the government website indicates that he has a plan.

“I feel like this: My application was taken … by a bureaucrat, it was put on a conveyor belt and it’s still going around, and it’s never going to leave the building,” he said. “I’ve lost hope. If it happens, great.”

Obama administration officials acknowledged today that some of the roughly 126,000 Americans who completed the torturous online enrollment process in October and November might not be officially signed up with their selected issuer, even if the website has told them they are.

Technical problems surrounding the transfer of an applicant’s personal information from the federal marketplace to the selected insurance company have plagued the system since its launch, making it difficult for insurers to finalize some enrollments. The 834 forms that issuers receive from the system have been riddled with errors, including often duplicate or incomplete information.

While the front-end of the website has been vastly improved, the back-end glitches remain a serious concern, IT experts and industry officials say.

“Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage,” said Karen Ignani, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “In addition to fixing the technical problems with healthcare.gov, the significant ‘backend’ issues must also be resolved to ensure that coverage can begin on Jan. 1, 2014.”

Meanwhile for consumers, it’s all turning out to be a giant headache. Shlora, who currently pays $2,800 a month for health care, told ABC News the “false braggadocio” coming from the White House is making it worse.

“The White House announced that they have met their goal,” he said of the much-touted improvements to the website. “They are taking applications but they aren’t going anywhere. What kind of goal is that?”

Good question. More on this issue here. Note the following, which speaks volumes about the problems remaining with the website:

The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials. The White House disputed the figure but declined to provide its own.

Still more here:

We don’t know how many inaccurate 834 transmissions went out. Three reporters — one from the Los Angeles Times, one from The Wall Street Journal and I — asked Bataille for information on how many of the 834s sent out so far have had an error. This is a question that I’ve asked on three previous calls, a point made by the Los Angeles Times’s Noam Levey as he asked for his second time.

This is where Monday’s media call started to get more tense than the dozens that have happened in the past, with reporter after reporter asking about the numbers of 834 errors and not getting a response from the administration. As The Wall Street Journal reporter reasoned, if the administration knows that 80 percent of the errors are coming from a certain bug — then simple math should figure out the total number.

Bataille did not provide an answer, beyond the metric of the Social Security bug causing the majority of the errors. “That’s the information I’ve got today,” she told The Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky, when she was the third reporter to ask about the issue.

The administration has identified the 834 transmissions as key to the health law’s success. When Jeff Zients came onboard to help fix HealthCare.gov, he identified fixing these flawed transmissions as the issue at the very top of of his punch list. The reason I’ve kept asking about it is because experts tell me repeatedly that if the health law wants to have a shot at working, then the 834 transmissions need to work, too. That makes how poorly, or how well, the 834 transmissions are going a really important metric for understanding whether the health-care law is working — and one that reporters are likely to keep pressing the administration on.

As a general matter, HealthCare.gov continues to be unworkable for users. See this and this for additional coverage of the site’s failures. It’s bad enough that the website continues to fail; it is even worse that the Obama administration is trying desperately to mislead people about the workability of the site, and that its efforts to deceive aren’t even remotely convincing.

So much then for the notion that HealthCare.gov is now working wonderfully, and that Obamacare has achieved “well-oiled machine” status. The website’s performance remains embarrassingly bad, and the implementation of Obamacare continues to be exceedingly problematic. If Obamacare supporters insist upon celebrating this debacle, then may we please ask them never to call themselves “the reality-based community” again?