We are three weeks into the launch of health care exchanges, both on a state level and federally, and with the government shutdown now finished, the reported issues with the insurance websites are now dominating the news media. On Monday, President Barack Obama led a press conference where he provided his personal assurances that the sites would begin working better and added his own disappointment over the glitch-filled launch of the Healthcare.gov website.
“Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” the President said Tuesday, flanked by those uninsured likely to benefit from new insurance coverage once it goes into effect on January 1. The President then urged those who wanted to register and were still having issues doing so to call for assistance.
Still, the most important message of the press conference is that whether or not the websites are working well at this exact moment, the real goal of the exchanges — getting affordable insurance for the uninsured — was working just fine for those who have managed to make their purchases. With just under two months left for people to register and still be covered on January 1, this isn’t a crisis at this point.
In fact, for many the exercise has been a total success. As I profiled over at Rolling Stone, even those who are having issues getting onto the site are learning that once they do manage to enroll, they will see significant savings or be insured for the first time in years.
To see what Obamacare could really look like if it were uninhibited by technical issues and actually championed by lawmakers who supported it, you just need to take a look at what has happened in Oregon. According to Wonkblog, 56,000 people have signed up for health care through the state exchange. That means that the state’s uninsured population will drop by 10 percent once the new insurance goes into effect. And that was after just a few weeks with the state’s own personal (and yes, slightly buggy) health insurance exchange being open.
With state specific sites experiencing issues, even though they have just a fraction of the traffic that Healthcare.gov, the federal exchange, is receiving, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a great deal of frustration continuing around the health care exchange. Yet a lot of the moaning, as well as the misinformation, about the system is coming from those who have also been the most adamantly opposed to the exchanges, as well as the Affordable Care Act in general.
Politicians, especially Republicans, who supported the ACA’s exchanges or came out in favor of Medicaid expansion in their states are seeing backlash from interest groups hoping to punish them in the next election. Conservative think tanks are continuing to release studies claiming that premium costs will go up under health care reform, purposefully ignoring information or playing with numbers to leave out the financial subsidies most Americans will receive in order to arrive at their increased numbers. And the most strenuously opposed politicians are even claiming that they would be dead if Obamacare were in effect currently. (News flash: It is in effect, except for the part where everyone has to have insurance. But never let the truth get in the way of a good story.)
The website, in fact all of the websites, will get fixed. A vast majority of those who need to be enrolled prior to the December 15 deadline in order to be insured January 1 will manage to do so. Like every other tech product, the exchanges will be debugged, retooled and eventually become accessible and usable with minimal error. Even better, Americans who were paying more in premiums because of their gender, who were uninsured because of pee-existing conditions, or couldn’t afford full insurance coverage because they were self-employed, made too little money or worked for companies that didn’t offer insurance will be able to see doctors and get preventative care without fear of bankruptcy.
A few years down the road, that is what we all are going to remember. Not the website glitches.
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