In a scathing editorial, the Wall Street Journal criticized the government website healthcare.gov, what was supposed to serve as a portal through which people would shop for individual insurance policies. The website went live October 1, 2013 and promptly validated the concerns expressed beforehand by health industry professionals and even low-level officials in the Obama administration. The website has crashed repeatedly, with users constantly frustrated by delays and error messages. Recently, the administration announced that it was seeking help from the private sector in order to repair the site. The Journal reports that the daily reports exchanged between the exchanges and insurers- so-called “834 transactions”- are so flawed syntactically that they cannot be processed unless done by hand. Experienced programmers have expressed disbelief at the poor quality of the coding underpinning the site.
The debacle has led to scrutiny of Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. While she has stated that she takes responsibility for the failure, she has also been disingenuous and politically tone-deaf on the subject. For instance, she claimed that the constant glitches in the site were the result of high traffic and were a “great problem to have.”
But the administration’s attempts to portray the debacle as a success go beyond the usual political spin. Although the administration likes to refer to the exchanges as a “marketplace- no doubt to distract attention away from the massive government regulation that Obamacare is. Transparent pricing is of course a key trait of a marketplace, but the prices quoted to consumers on healthcare.gov do not mention the subsidy (if any) which is built into that quoted price. In addition, several media outfits have reported that the administration has asked the health care industry to refrain from publishing data about the dismally low number of people who have managed to sign up for health insurance through the site thus far. Moreover, contractors who built the website have told Congress that the administration failed to timely provide them designers of the site with the necessary information. For example, contractors were notified two weeks before the site’s launch that consumers would not be able to browse insurance plans anonymously, but would have to register beforehand.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the rollout of the site is its staggering cost. Estimates of the cost vary wildly and the initial reports of $634 million appear to be exaggerated, but the Washington Post estimates the cost to be between $170 million and $300 million. There is no question whatsoever that any executive in the private sector who put out such a poor product at such an exorbitant price would be fired immediately. Unfortunately, Americans don’t have that option with Obamacare.