I guess Kathleen Sebelius wrote this essay for USA Today before Robert Gibbs offered the White House a little advice on honesty, huh? The cheerleading from the author of the Healthcare.gov fiasco is notable more for what it doesn’t claim than what it does, but let’s let the HHS Secretary offer her own narrative first:

The new Marketplace is an opportunity for individuals without employer insurance to obtain coverage — with choice and competition that was previously unavailable. Many Americans and their families are eligible for financial assistance to make insurance even more affordable.

Yet, far too many of those who have visited HealthCare.gov have experienced problems. These problems are unacceptable.

So we’ve been working 24/7 to make improvements, and more consumers are successfully shopping online and enrolling in a health plan each week.

As a result, today’s user experience on HealthCare.gov is a dramatic improvement over where it was on Oct. 1. The site is running faster, it’s responding quicker and it can handle larger amounts of traffic.

So what doesn’t Sebelius say? Nowhere does she claim that the site is any better at successfully enrolling consumers in health insurance coverage.  It’s faster and can handle more traffic — they think — but it’s not going to sign up millions of people in the next three weeks in time for compliance with the administration’s individual mandate deadline. In fact, the back end to complete those transactions doesn’t exist yet, as the New York Times reported and I included in this morning’s post.

In that sense, the improvement is hardly dramatic — and hardly qualifies as an improvement in the real sense of the word.  Even USA Today is less than impressed with the Sebelius argument they host, even while blaming Republicans in part for the issues

Anyone who wants a better health care system than the dysfunctional status quo should give a cheer, but a cautious one. Because for all the apparent good news, Obama and his signature effort are nowhere near out of the woods. The system still doesn’t have enough capacity to handle a rush. And with two months of the six-month open enrollment period largely wasted, deadlines will come much more quickly now, and problems that were overshadowed by the website’s catastrophic early failures will loom much larger.

For example:

  • For people whose insurance expires at the end of the year, the deadline for signing up for a policy that goes into effect Jan. 1 is Dec. 23, just three weeks away. Until now, website problems have been mostly annoying and inconvenient. Not having insurance coverage on Jan. 1 could produce real harm.
  • Insurance companies complain — and the administration admits — that prioritizing website fixes for consumers meant paying less attention to the back end of the system. There is a disturbingly high error rate in the information HealthCare.gov sends insurers about which customers have signed up for which policies. Worse, the administration told Congress two weeks ago that as much as 40% of the system hadn’t even been built yet, including accounting and payment systems.
  • Obama has already had hellish problems after promising that if people liked their insurance, they could keep it. There could be a similar battle brewing over his pledge that people could keep their doctors, because insurers are shrinking doctor and hospital networks to cut costs.

These are only some of the potential challenges, and the almost incomprehensible mismanagement exposed by the website fiasco does not inspire confidence, particularly with political support eroding, an election less than a year away and Republicans doing everything they can to pour sand in the gears.

“Sand in the gears”? How exactly does work when the rollout has its own statutory funding and only Democrats have been in charge of the project since its inception? Supposedly, Republican governors made it more difficult by refusing to expand Medicaid and open state-based exchanges, but the latter have only worked incrementally better than the federal system. Oregon, which is hardly a bastion of Republican control, has so far failed to sign up a single person through its ObamaCare exchange.

If you want to know what Sebelius really thinks of her “dramatically improved” web portal, actions speak louder than words:

But don’t be fooled: Healthcare.gov still has problems. Anyone who thinks Team Obama is breathing a sigh of relief, who thinks the administration is out of the woods, needs to know this: The administration has quietly canceled a big December ad campaign to encourage Americans to visit the site, out of fear that a new wave of visitors would cause it to crash. Not exactly a sign of confidence.

Exactly. Here’s Maggie Gallagher explaining the “dramatically improved” user experience:

It is better. It takes a lot longer until you reach the dreaded 404 message. Figuring out whether the plan I buy allows me to keep my doctor has been remarkably difficult. You hit “provider directory” and get sent to the insurance company’s website, making connecting up the plan with the doctor not particularly easy.

And then you hit the 404 message.

What an improvement!