Here’s my favorite example yet of the paranoid extent to which the White House and HHS have tried to keep the problems surrounding Healthcare.gov a secret. Unlike the administrators of the state exchanges, who held public meetings as they ran into problems developing their websites, the feds maintained absolute radio silence. They misled the public when oversight agencies questioned their progress this year, and then just last night Sebelius obviously lied to CNN about Obama being ignorant of the situation until only recently. But now it’s all come crashing down thanks to the excruciatingly public failure of Healthcare.gov. Everyone understands that it’s next to impossible to sign up; everyone has understood for at least a week that enrollments are way, way lower than the feds were hoping for at this point in October. It’s a disaster, universally acknowledged by left and right. No sense keeping secrets anymore.
But they’re still trying to keep them, if only to spare themselves an extra iota of humiliation. That’s what the Most Transparent Administration Evah has come to.
During a Monday forum in Fargo for people interested in signing up for coverage via the exchange, James Nichol of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota told the crowd his company received the request from the federal government earlier Monday. Nichol is a consumer sales manager for the company.
Still, a spokeswoman from Blue Cross Blue Shield says about 14 North Dakotans have signed up for coverage since the federal exchange went live Oct. 1. That brings total statewide enrollment to 20 – less than one a day.
Spokeswoman Andrea Dinneen said Tuesday that while Blue Cross generally does not release its internal sales numbers, it has in this case because the problematic rollout of the federal health care exchange is a “unique situation.”
To repeat: They received this request from the feds on Monday, after nearly three weeks of media coverage of the Healthcare.gov trainwreck and on the very day that Obama himself felt obliged to hold a presser in the Rose Garden acknowledging that there’s no way to sugarcoat how badly the launch has gone. That feels more like force of habit from an administration that’s become famous for its compulsive secrecy than deliberate secrecy with any concrete benefit in mind. And it’s not just the public they’re trying to keep in the dark. Their own caucus in the House can’t get any straight answers either:
Even behind closed doors, the administration declined to say how many people have enrolled. Officials said last weekend that about a half million people had done the initial applications — but they’ve repeatedly said they won’t announce how many have actually enrolled in a health plan until November.
“If they have it, they’re not giving the number out.”said Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine). “We’re just tired of anecdotal answers to some of the problems.”
The punchline here, as you already know if you’ve been following this day to day, is that the slow drip of enrollments is inadvertently preventing an even bigger technological disaster — for the moment. The login problems on the site have captured the public’s attention for understandable reasons, because they can see for themselves how frustrating the user experience is. But those problems are relatively easily solved; the true disaster is the difficulty insurance companies are having getting non-garbled information on enrollees from the Healthcare.gov database. They have the time and resources to try to un-garble what they’re getting so long as enrollments remain at a trickle, but once the login problems are solved and the floodgates open, there’ll be total chaos. People who think their enrollment’s been successfully processed will either end up in a mountainous stack of files that need to be cleaned up by the insurance company first or they’ll end up in the waste basket if the company decides there’s not enough usable data in the file to clean it up at all. Imagine being one of those people, going to the doctor next January thinking you have insurance, and then being informed that you don’t.
One more from HHS’s greatest transparency hits, this time from crestfallen ObamaCare fan Ezra Klein trying to suppress his skepticism about the “tech surge”:
The White House has refused requests to name the outsiders they’ve brought in, to name the companies that are involved and to explain how the surge is being organized. It’s thus impossible to say what the surge actually is or how it’s working.
It’s easy to imagine reasons for their reticence. They don’t want reporters to know where to go for further leaks. They don’t want people who are donating their time to come under political pressure, or appear to bear responsibility if the site isn’t fixed, or simply to be bothered by a lot of outside inquiry and scrutiny when they should be fixing code.
But it’s also possible that the scope of the surge is less impressive, and more insider-focused, than the administration is implying.
Bingo. The “tech surge” isn’t going to fix Healthcare.gov, or at least not remotely as quickly as the White House would like it to. When it doesn’t, having been fooled into thinking that the tech cavalry will save the day, the public will be inclined to blame the “surge” participants for failing to deliver. But it’s not their fault; the site is simply unsalvageable in the timeframe they’re facing. Keeping their names secret is the White House’s way of making it a bit safer for them to take part in the operation, without fear that they’ll be scapegoated when it doesn’t work. This secrecy, at least, is comprehensible. How about the secrecy towards Blue Cross, though?
While you mull that, here’s some White House propaganda that misrepresents the experience of something like 99.9999% of Healthcare.gov users.
Update: Lo and behold, Blue Cross in North Dakota now claims that its rep simply “misunderstood” internal discussions and that the feds never asked them to keep quiet about the number of enrollees. Is that the truth or just damage control now that HHS has been embarrassed by what the rep said?