Via NRO, watch to the end or you’ll miss a cutaway on the split screen that made me laugh aloud. Can it really be true that a website that’s been inaccessible to most of the planet for most of the past month, which was so poorly designed that it ended up effectively DDOSing itself, has never technically “crashed”? Yup, says Sebelius, because it’s never been overloaded to the point where it’s been knocked completely offline. Direct quote: “It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability.” It’s functional, technically.
Check out what happened to the “functional” talking point 20 minutes later, though, when she was asked the billion-dollar question about enrollments and adverse selection:
Sebelius does not release enrollment numbers in health care law. Says "The system isn't functioning so we are not getting reliable data"
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) October 30, 2013
What she’s really doing here, I think, is distinguishing between the front end and back end of the site. The front end is technically kinda sorta functioning because a select few have managed to eke their way through the application process. In theory, all you need to do is improve scalability and things would work better. The back end of the site, where the applicant’s information is forwarded to the insurance company for processing, is a different story because the info that’s being transmitted is often incomplete or garbled. Insurers are mystified by it, per Bob Laszewski’s interview with Ezra Klein last week; unless and until it’s fixed, it would actually be bad to repair the front end of the site lest thousands of new garbled applications start flooding into insurers’ inboxes. The worst-case scenario here isn’t that Sebelius is lying under oath by claiming she doesn’t know how many people enrolled because revealing the number would embarrass her. The worst-case scenario is that she honestly doesn’t know because insurers have received so many incoherent or duplicative applications that they can’t tell how many bona fide enrollees there are. We’re two months out from coverage taking effect and the Secretary of HHS might genuinely be in the dark about enrollments because the software she built is too cocked-up to give her an accurate sense.
Which is not to say that all of the law’s “glitches” are a direct result of the website:
Hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people who purchase coverage independently are now receiving letters from insurers canceling policies that do not comply with new Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations. In cancelling such plans, some insurers are telling customers they will be automatically enrolled in alternative ACA-compliant coverage unless they object.
This could be a major snag in the ACA’s plan to subsidize insurance purchased on the individual market. New tax credits, available to individuals earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $46,000 per year, can only be accessed through new ACA insurance marketplaces. Those who purchase coverage outside the exchanges cannot claim subsidies, even if they qualify for them, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing implementation of the ACA. Automatic enrollment directly through an insurer would avoid the exchanges, and the subsidies, entirely.
Customers who are being automatically enrolled in new plans are told at the time that they need to sign up through the exchanges instead if they want subsidies, but … the federal exchange, at least, still doesn’t work, even if it’s “functional” in Sebelius’s Clintonian parsing of the term. Some people who might have tried to sign up when they received the letter will inevitably forget as the website problems persist, and then the rate shock they experience next year sans subsidies will be even worse than it might have been. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.