ObamaCare problems in spotlight after government shutdown ends
By Sam Baker - 10/19/13 12:03 PM ET
The problems plaguing ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges are about to get a lot more attention.
Republicans ended up giving the White House some unintended political cover over the past two weeks, as the government shutdown and threat of default overshadowed the deeply flawed rollout of ObamaCare’s new insurance marketplaces.
But the shutdown is now in the rearview mirror, and healthcare.gov — the main portal for consumers to access ObamaCare’s exchanges — is still facing serious technical problems.
Congressional Republicans are eager to distance themselves from the failure of the shutdown — an effort to cripple ObamaCare that ended up backfiring, distracting the public from the law’s real problems.
And they’re eager to push the focus back to the White House’s problems, rather than their own.
“House Republicans have always been committed to effective, responsible oversight on the ‘train wreck’ that is President Obama’s healthcare law. Now, amid the disastrous rollout, those efforts will be redoubled,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The oversight planning is already taking shape. The House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.). is planning hearings soon.
“Now we’re going to shift to oversight of the healthcare law,” Camp said last week. “Obviously there are huge problems with the rollout, very few people have signed up and been able to log on. We’re going to have to now pursue what is this law really doing for Americans and is it delivering.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will be the first out of the gate, with a hearing already scheduled on the exchanges’ rocky rollout.
Energy and Commerce Republicans sent letters recently to officials at the Health and Human Services Department who oversaw the implementation effort, and to the contractors charged with building the federally run exchanges that have had such a hard time getting off the ground.
“After three-and-a-half years, the law was clearly not ready for prime time, and the administration now has a competence problem. The American people deserve to know what caused this mess,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a recent statement.
Many Republicans complained during the shutdown about a “missed opportunity” to make a strong case against ObamaCare by emphasizing the myriad problems with the rollout of the law’s exchanges and healthcare.gov, the portal for accessing those exchanges.
The fiscal fight was indeed a big distraction when the exchanges were at their most dysfunctional.
In the first week of the launch, hardly anyone could actually access healthcare.gov. Users met error messages and long wait times and were unable to even create an account — the first step toward shopping for coverage.
CGI Federal, the contractor that built the bulk of healthcare.gov, testified at an Energy and Commerce hearing in September that the federal portal was ready to go.
The company even singled out the ability to create accounts — the first thing to go wrong — as a piece of the puzzle it had successfully tested.
Some of healthcare.gov’s problems are getting better.
More users can create accounts now, and HHS has added a new option allowing users to get a rough sense of their options and costs without going all the way through the time-consuming application process.
HHS has added capacity to help deal with the crush of traffic the site has experienced — which contributed to its early problems, but was not the sole cause.
But there’s still plenty for Republicans to seize on, and as more users are able to actually use the system, potentially more serious issues are arising.
Sources close to the insurance industry have said they’re concerned about the exchanges returning inaccurate information about the level of tax subsidies applicants will receive.
If the calculations are too low, consumers might see a higher out-of-pocket cost and avoid buying coverage. Or, if the mistake goes the other way, consumers might end up paying more than they were told they would owe.