Sebelius: Relax, Obamacare's Online Exchanges Are 'Simple' and 'User-Friendly'

Posted: Oct 08, 2013 1:35 PM

Amid a cyclone of humiliating failures, meltdowns and anger, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hoists Obamacare's equivalent of a "Mission Accomplished" banner:

When the Health Insurance Marketplace opened last week, demand was so high, it exceeded even optimists' expectations. On the first day alone, had nearly eight times more concurrent users than Medicare's site (one of the federal government's most highly trafficked) during open enrollment peak levels. Many of our neighbors have been waiting years for affordable health insurance. Some have waited their entire lives...Engineers are working day and night to make upgrades. We're adding more servers to enable the system to handle larger loads. And we're upgrading our software as well to make the system more efficient and enable it to handle higher volumes....This work is delivering results. Wait times on are now 50% shorter, and more people are enrolling in affordable coverage...This is why the Marketplace matters. It is simple and user-friendly, and the coverage is affordable.

Go back and peruse my post from this morning for an executive summary of why almost nothing Sebelius says comports with reality. The glitches are not primarily a result of high demand (though that excuse itself betrays disturbing ineptitude), and some of the most thorny technological issues are going to be very difficult to rectify. The administration continues to crow about the number of people visiting its websites, while refusing to reveal how many people have actually enrolled in the program -- an announcement that won't come for weeks. In some major states, experts believe that approximately zero people have successfully obtained coverage, and one of the law's prominent "success" stories was exposed as a lie late last week. Sebelius asserts that the enrollment process is "simple" (false), "user-friendly" (pants-on-fire false, see video below) and "affordable" (strike three). Opposite the cabinet secretary's USA Today essay is the editorial board's scathing editorial, which slams the Obamacare implementation fiasco as an "inexcusable mess:"

The administration managed to turn the experience for most of those visitors into a nightmare. Websites crashed, refused to load, or offered bizarre and incomprehensible choices. Even though the system was shut down for repairs over the weekend, Monday's early reports continued to suggest an epic screw-up...In addition to grossly underestimating demand, the administration and its contractors seem to have made mistakes in building the websites. The system for verifying consumer identity has had persistent problems, as have pull-down menus. Nor were problems confined to the 36 state health exchanges run by the federal government. Sites run by 14 states and Washington, D.C., bogged down because they have to refer to federal databases to verify consumers' identity. The non-federal exchanges appear to vary widely in performance. Maryland's highly touted site continued to generate a bewildering array of error messages on Monday...Considering that officials had more than three years to prepare, it's hard even to imagine a credible excuse.

Twisting the knife, the editors draw a comparison to the Bush administration's largely successful (and under-budget) prescription drug program for seniors under Medicare:

[An Obama administration official] said the administration expected 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users. It got 250,000. Compare that with the similarly rocky debut seven years ago of exchanges to obtain Medicare drug coverage. The Bush administration projected 20,000 simultaneous users and built capacity for 150,000. That's the difference between competence and incompetence.

Sebelius appeared on The Daily Show last night, where she was repeatedly pressed on the program's inconsistencies and shortcomings. For a fact-check of her performance, read this piece in The Federalist. Host Jon Stewart summed up his take-away instinct at the very end of the show, essentially accusing Sebelius of lying to his face: "I still don’t understand why individuals have to sign up and businesses don’t, because if the businesses — if she’s saying, ‘well, they get a delay because that doesn’t matter anyway because they already give health care,’ then you think to yourself, ‘f*** it, then why do they have to sign up at all,’” he said. “And then I think to myself, ‘well, maybe she’s just lying to me.’” Meanwhile, here's a local reporter reprising the role of MSNBC and CNN journalists trying to sign up for Obamacare, a full week later. "Simple and user-friendly," y'all:

"They just hung up on me."

Last but not least, a new, huge enrollment snag has come to light today. Bloomberg reports:

While it’s not clear how widespread the problem is, the reports from industry consultants are the first hint that the technical troubles faced by consumers trying to enroll in health plans under the Affordable Care Act may also be hitting the insurers. The companies are receiving electronic files that can’t open or have so much missing information on new enrollees they’re unusable, the consultants said. Some insurers have been forced to fix entries by hand, said Bob Laszewski, an insurance-industry consultant based in Arlington, Virginia. “If you’ve only got a dozen bad enrollments, that’s OK, but what are you going to do when you have 200,000 bad enrollments?” Laszewski said. “What we’re seeing in public is the web portal, which is a mess. It is just as bad behind the wizard’s curtain.”

So even the lucky few who believe they've "successfully" bought coverage through Obamacare might not have because of technical malfunctions on the provider end of the system. Simple, user-friendly and affordable.

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