Covered California is a Model--for Obamacare's Failure
by Joel B. Pollak 14 Feb 2014, 12:58 PM PDT
Covered California, the Golden State's Obamacare exchange, was meant to be a model of how well the policy could work under the best conditions. “By proving it can work here, that will be a beacon to the nation," said an activist quoted by Bloomberg News on Friday. "On the other hand, if we stumble, that creates even more problems for the embattled law." Leftists have been eager to proclaim California's success--prematurely.
Reality is now setting in: Covered California is a failure. It is only successful relative to the appalling failures of states like Oregon and the federal Obamacare exchange itself. This week, local consumer watchdogs warned that Covered California (and President Barack Obama) may have swindled consumers with a "bait-and-switch," allowing millions to believe (incorrectly) that they could keep their doctors under their new policies.
The problems began even before the launch of Obamacare, when several major insurance companies decided not to participate in Covered California. Then, when the Covered California website launched in October, it claimed to have received five million hits, only to admit later that the initial estimate had been mistaken, and the true number of visits was 645,000. The Covered California website also had to shut down twice.
Soon, insurance companies began sending customers cancelation notices to Californians who had enjoyed individual coverage. State authorities eventually admitted that the number losing their insurance would exceed one million. In contrast, the number enrolled in Covered California through January was only 728,000. State officials rejected a proposal by the president to allow those with canceled policies to extend them.
Then, news emerged that an estimated 70% of California doctors would not participate in the program, even though Covered California had said that 85% of the state's doctors would be involved. Stories began to emerge of cancer patients who lost their insurance and their doctors due to Obamacare, or new cancer patients who were turned away. In desperation, Obama's local activists reached out to volunteers to find success stories.
Now, the Washington Post reports that Covered California has taken down its exchange for small businesses because it was "not meeting the needs of agents or small employers." Covered California is so desperate for numbers that it even appears to be enrolling illegal aliens, in violation of the law. Even Democrats are criticizing Covered California for spending $1.37 million on a promotional video featuring Richard Simmons.
In fairness, Covered California did a few things right. For example, it allowed consumers to browse insurance policies and to compare plans and prices before entering all of their sensitive personal information. That avoided some of the glitches and security risks of other websites. Yet the state's rapid expansion of Medicaid (Medi-Cal), while efficient, meant that many affluent Californians suddenly found themselves on the dole.
As recently as December, Gov. Jerry Brown was touting Covered California's relative success. But a failure is still a failure, even if others have failed more egregiously. Covered California has indeed turned out to be a model for the policy as a whole--but not in the way the bureaucrats and activists intended. If this is the best Obamacare can do, even with a cooperative state government, then there is no way the policy can ever work.