Obamacare: It’s Getting So Much Beta All the Time*

It’s worth emphasizing up front that this story has to do with the Washington state exchange website, but in any event, we have yet another indication that government IT does not inspire confidence:

For the second week in a row, the Washington Healthplanfinder website is down, and it’s causing problems for people who are dealing with billing issues. Some of them say the website is mistakenly debiting their accounts.

Shannon Bruner of Indianola logged on to her checking account Monday morning, and found she was almost 800 dollars in the negative.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘I got screwed,’” she said.

The Bruners enrolled for insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder website, last October. They say they selected the bill pay date to be December 24th. Instead the Washington Healthplanfinder drafted the 835 dollar premium Monday.

Josh Bruner started his own business this year as an engineering recruiter. They said it’s forced them to pay a lot of attention to their bills and their bank accounts.

“Big knot in my gut because we’re trying to keep it together,” said Shannon Bruner. “It’s important to me that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

They’re not alone.

One viewer emailed KING 5 saying, “They drafted my account this morning for a second time.”

Another woman on Facebook with a similar problem commented, “We are all in the same boat.”

“We’ve got to figure out how to get money to pay the bills for the next week or two until we have another check come through,” said Josh Bruner. “It’s just crazy.”

The story does not indicate that anyone has been fired for this inexcusable disaster, which I guess is yet another way in which the Washington state experience is like the federal experience.

As for the federal experience itself, we have another likely set of worries, courtesy of Michael Boskin:

The White House is claiming that the Healthcare.gov website is mostly fixed, that the millions of Americans whose health plans were canceled thanks to government rules may be able to keep them for another year, and that in any event these people will get better plans through ObamaCare exchanges. Whatever the truth of these assertions, those who expect better days ahead for the Affordable Care Act are in for a rude awakening. The shocks—economic and political—will get much worse next year and beyond. Here’s why:

The “sticker shock” that many buyers of new, ACA-compliant health plans have experienced—with premiums 30% higher, or more, than their previous coverage—has only begun. The costs borne by individuals will be even more obvious next year as more people start having to pay higher deductibles and copays.

If, as many predict, too few healthy young people sign up for insurance that is overpriced in order to subsidize older, sicker people, the insurance market will unravel in a “death spiral” of ever-higher premiums and fewer signups. The government, through taxpayer-funded “risk corridors,” is on the hook for billions of dollars of potential insurance-company losses. This will be about as politically popular as bank bailouts.

The “I can’t keep my doctor” shock will also hit more and more people in coming months. To keep prices to consumers as low as possible—given cost pressures generated by the government’s rules, controls and coverage mandates—insurance companies in many cases are offering plans that have very restrictive networks, with lower-cost providers that exclude some of the best physicians and hospitals.

Next year, millions must choose among unfamiliar physicians and hospitals, or paying more for preferred providers who are not part of their insurance network. Some health outcomes will deteriorate from a less familiar doctor-patient relationship.

More IT failures are likely. People looking for health plans on ObamaCare exchanges may be able to fill out their applications with more ease. But the far more complex back-office side of the website—where the information in their application is checked against government databases to determine the premium subsidies and prices they will be charged, and where the applications are forwarded to insurance companies—is still under construction. Be prepared for eligibility, coverage gap, billing, claims, insurer payment and patient information-protection debacles.

Read the whole thing. Given the problems that we have already seen, and given the fact that the problems Boskin anticipates are mentioned by a host of other observers as potential future Obamacare landmines, I don’t think that anyone would be surprised to see Boskin’s predictions come true.

Matt Welch reminds us that during this entire sorry episode, legions of dishonest pundits and politicians resolved to do nothing to help the public discourse, and instead did just about everything that they could to harm it:

Back in 2009, to accuse President Barack Obama of lying about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was to crawl onto a pretty lonely branch. In December of that year, when I leveled the charge in response to the president’s knowing mischaracterization of the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of his signature piece of legislation, I was called “flagrantly dishonest” by none other than the (rightly respected) civil liberties blogger/reporter Glenn Greenwald. [Hardly “rightly respected,” but we will save that debate for another day–ed.]

As recently as November 2012-more than two years after the administration published grandfathering regulations as part of its health care legislation, rendering ludicrous the president’s frequently repeated pledge that “if you like your health plan you can keep it”-much of the liberal commentariat was calling the electoral contest between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney a referendum on political honesty. The only way for truth to prevail, they argued, was to vote for the Democrat.

“We may find out whether a ‘post truth’ candidate can be elected president,” Washington Post “Plum Line” blogger Greg Sargent warned just before the election. “If there is one constant to this campaign, it’s that Romney has startled many observers by operating from the basic premise that there is literally no set of boundaries he needs to follow when it comes to the veracity of his assertions.”

One year later, as the mainstream press was filling up with blow-by-blow accounts of Obama-Care’s brutally inept rollout and extravagantly broken promises, once-proud truth tellers like Sargent found themselves in the unintentionally comical position of downplaying the president’s mendacity. “The White House could have been clearer in laying the groundwork for this political argument: It wasn’t sufficient to say people who like their plans will be able to keep it, which is narrowly untrue,” Sargent wrote. Then he pivoted to the real culprits, declaring that “the GOP outrage about Americans supposedly ‘losing’ coverage is largely just more of the same old misdirection. It’s a subset of a larger Republican refusal to have an actual debate about the law’s tradeoffs-one in which the law’s benefits for millions of Americans are also reckoned with in a serious way.”

Such euphemistic apologia and subject changing was common in October and November, as insurance cancellation letters flew into mailboxes by the hundreds of thousands. New York Times editorialist David Firestone, in a piece with the sneering headline “The Uproar Over Insurance ‘Cancellation’ Notices,” referred to Obama’s lie as “President Obama’s unfortunate blanket statement.” The paper’s editorial board averred that Obama “clearly misspoke,” then claimed the canceled policies were “not worth keeping.” House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters: “I don’t think the message was wrong. I think the message was accurate. It was not precise enough.”

I hate to be in a position where I am constantly calling for people to lose their jobs, but someone has to point out that not a single one of the pundits who encouraged mass dishonesty within the context of this debate have been fired. It is nice to think that we will have the chance to fire dishonest politicians ourselves when the next election comes around, but one would have thought that editors and media owners who care about the reputations of the news organizations that they lead would have beaten us to the punch by now.

Speaking of dishonest pundits who sneer that it’s actually others who are dishonest, Paul Krugman has arrived on the scene (citing Greg Sargent, no less!) in order to inform us that since insurers are advertising heavily, trying to get people to enroll in the health insurance exchanges, “[i]nsurers think this is going to work.” Krugman is convinced that he is smarter than just about anyone else on the planet, so I wonder why it hasn’t occurred to him that the reason insurers are advertising heavily is because they have no other choice in the matter. Obamacare, problems and all, is still the only game in town at this point, and insurers know that. They also know that laws, once passed and in the process of implementation (however flawed that implementation may be), are very difficult to repeal. They know still further that unless they convince the public to sign up, the very “death spiral” that they and others fear (an insurance pool that consists mainly of higher risk insurees, and higher premiums as a consequence), will become a reality. So they are doing everything within their power in order to stop this doomsday scenario from being a reality. This hardly means that “[i]nsurers think this is going to work,” but I am pretty sure that one ought not to waste time trying to convince Krugman of that fact; he must be busy thinking that he is God’s gift to pundits, after all.

*I am indebted to Jonathan Silber for the title to this blog post.

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