Progress: ObamaCare website taking slightly longer to crash for users than it did before

It’s still crashing, sure, but it lets you complete more steps in the application process before 404ing on you. Which … I’m not sure constitutes progress, actually. If a site’s more or less unusable, you’re better off hitting the wall early on than spending 30 minutes trying to sign up before the trap door is pulled, no?

Here’s what we’re down to by way of “good news” these days.

Despite weeks of work by a small army of software experts to salvage, navigators in states that depend on the federal insurance exchange say they still cannot get most of their clients through the online enrollment process.

Those navigators said they had seen improvements in the system since its disastrous rollout on Oct. 1, particularly in the initial steps of the application process. But the closer people come to signing up for a plan, the more the system seems to freeze or fail, many navigators said…

Some navigators said it was hard not to feel discouraged, especially when their clients, locked out by the website, went home upset. “We have people who understandably say, ‘Well what the heck am I doing here if you can’t enroll me?’” said Ted Trevorrow, a navigator in Philadelphia who has not been able to enroll a single person yet. “I always want to say, ‘That’s a really good question.’”…

Clients wary of the health care law can be especially intolerant of the website’s problems, Mr. Trevorrow said. “They’re incensed over the fact that the law would, as they see it, intrude on them to this degree and then not even perform,” he said.

That last part is the moral of the story of the entire rollout period. If you’re going to disrupt one-sixth of the economy, you’ve got to be able to show people some sort of palpable improvement somewhere as evidence that it’s worth it. It could be anything — an easy application process, lower premiums, a bigger provider network, gaudy new benefits, anything. Just give the public some reason to think that the endless aggravation is paying off. O’s given them nothing: The application process is a catastrophe, exchange premiums tend to be more expensive than premiums for pre-ObamaCare plans were, and provider networks are shrinking as insurers strain to keep costs down. Benefits are better than they used to be for some people but not for everyone; it depends on whether your old plan truly was “cut-rate” or not and whether you think “comprehensive” benefits (e.g., substance abuse treatment) justify the burden of higher premiums and/or deductibles. Even the subsidies, arguably the law’s most salable point to the public, aren’t an unvarnished good. If you’re already struggling to get by and suddenly required by law to purchase insurance, having half of your new monthly bill footed by Uncle Sam doesn’t change the fact that you’re still on the hook for the other half. The least Obama and his team could have done to make this medicine go down smoothly is make the enrollment process sugary sweet. Instead it’s bitter. He’s left congressional Dems with essentially no talking points with which to defend the law. No wonder they’re bailing on him.

The only bright spot for Democrats is that the state exchanges are working better than But then, that’s complicated too: Read John Sexton and Ace for the demographic breakdown of enrollees in Kentucky and California. To make risk pools in the age of ObamaCare sustainable, the insurance industry needs roughly 40 percent of enrollees to be young and healthy. They’re the suckers who almost never need medical care but who are being coerced into buying insurance anyway by federal law so that insurers have a new revenue stream with which to cover the old and sick. If they don’t hit the 40 percent target by next April, premiums are going up in 2015 and/or HHS will be on the hook for some sort of bailout. As things stand right now, young adults make up only 19 percent of Kentucky’s new enrollees and 23 percent of California’s — and even that may be overstating things. Like Ace says, the data only tells us that some enrollees are young; it doesn’t say whether they’re healthy. It may well be that some disproportionate chunk of young enrollees in both states is clamoring to sign up precisely because they’re rare cases of young adults who do have serious medical issues. Those don’t count for purposes of the 40 percent target, obviously. None of this is a grave danger to O-Care yet since everyone expects the first wave of enrollees to contain a higher percentage of older, sicker people than the final risk pool will contain. Obviously, if you need care, you’re in more of a hurry to sign up than someone who doesn’t. But if the website problems drag on and the frustration over signing up deepens — which is what seems to be happening in the NYT piece excerpted above — then maybe the feds will lose some segment of “young healthies” irretrievably. That’s when they’ve got real political problems.

By the way, the Speaker of the House tried to sign up for a plan on the federal website today. It didn’t go so well.

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John Sexton 10:00 PM on June 02, 2023