The Federal Health Insurance Exchange: What a Mess!


No matter what side of the Obamacare debate you fall in, no one can deny that the first wave of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in early October was not a success. And now everyone in Washington is scrambling to explain what went wrong with the launch of the government website,, which opened the health insurance exchange to the public. Recent hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Committee didn’t shed a lot of light on the matter, other than the fact that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius promised that technological glitches would be ironed out by the end of November.

What’s in a promise? Other promises made have not been kept as individuals who have health insurance have seen their current insurance plans cancelled already. Do you remember when President Obama said, “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. No one can take it away, nothing will change period.”? Now, one commentator noted, “Obama made a foolish promise he couldn’t possibly keep. Insofar as that argument was used to attract and justify support for the law, he undermined the political legitimacy of his signature achievement.”

So, along with the technological mess of the federal website, comes the reality that this unequivocal promise was in fact an empty one. You can keep your plan as an individual, but only if it meets ACA regulations. Now the spin has started to justify this realization, as the White House spokesman Jay Carney recently said that allowing people on the individual market to continue their current coverage “would undermine that basic premise of providing the minimum benefits for the American people.” The problem here is in the details—no one made it clear that insurance already being held would need to be upgraded or changed to meet new government standards.

Clearly, there has been a lot of chatter about the health insurance exchanges from all quarters, including a recent American Medical Association (AMA) commentary which calls the rollout “extremely bumpy” and brings up a number of interesting points. One worry is that the bumpy ride has dissuaded exactly those people who need to sign up in order to support the entire system—that means healthy, young adults—from even trying to get signed up. Have you ever seen the impatience of the younger generation or so-called “young immortals” when they can’t get through to a website or video? An example of that frustration to get through on the federal website when it opened was reported by Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News, which put that experience in numbers—it took Galewitz 17 days and 63 attempts to enroll.

During testimony at the House hearing, Kathleen Sebelius admitted, “I told the president that we were ready to go. Clearly I was wrong. No one ever imagined the volume of issues and problems that we’ve had.”

Now, we are being asked to trust that everything will be fixed as the clock ticks. People need to be enrolling in the required timeframe or pay a penalty, which seems patently unfair under the circumstances.

Thank you for reading!

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