The Inside Story on Obamacare

DECEMBER 19, 2013

Health care professionals who are avidly following the ongoing story of the government health care website rollout, now entering its third month, no doubt were fascinated by the recent New York Times article, “Inside the Race to Rescue a Health Care Site, and Obama“ (phrmcyt.ms/1azaUhV). Indeed, this detailed, behind-the-scenes look at what actually happened—and what didn’t happen—during the launch of HealthCare.gov offers some very interesting reading, no matter what side of the debate you may be on.

Clearly, the frantic efforts to “fix” the health insurance exchange by the end of November were executed not only to actually fix the failing website, but also to save face for a politically embarrassing episode for the Obama administration, one that will have longer-term repercussions. As the Times article indicated, this rescue effort was aimed at saving President Obama’s credibility as well as the philosophy that the federal government can solve “big, complex social problems.” Obviously, the complexities of health care in this nation were too much of a challenge for big government to solve, and when you see what happened in the framing of the health care exchange, it’s easy to see why.

Among the myriad of problems, coordination and planning were done in a vacuum and the website was never fully tested. Terms such as “systems integrator” and “software code” became part of Washington, DC’s vocabulary as people realized that the technology behind the exchange, the so-called “back end,” was not fully built, let alone tested. If someone in the real world of business worked on a website launch in this manner, heads would roll. But big government gets a pass, with hearings launched and new experts brought in to fix the multitude of problems, estimated to be close to 800 in number.

Like the famous Nancy Pelosi thought process, “You won’t know what’s in the health reform bill until it is passed,” the government website has a similar mantra. As Aetna Chief Executive Mark Bertolini noted on CNBC, “There’s so much wrong, you just don’t know what’s broken until you get a lot more of it fixed.” With insurance companies investing in additional workers and tens of millions of dollars to prepare for this new health care marketplace, the lack of transparency in what is going on in these early days does not predict a smooth ride down the road. In fact, some pundits are already predicting a sharp rise in the cost of premiums in 2015 as the ratio of healthy and unhealthy people becomes unbalanced.

So, what’s the newest solution for fixing the website? According to the Times article, technicians were tasked to set up a “waiting room” to accommodate consumers as they log on to sign up for a health plan. While admitting that significant challenges still remain, people now will have the illusion that something is working. Sounds like Washington, DC, all over again.

Thank you for reading!
Mike Hennessy
Chairman/Chief Executive Officer

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