Brought to you by the same people who insisted that if you liked your insurance plan, you could keep it:
Obama administration officials said Monday that some visitors to HealthCare.gov will experience outages, slow response times or try-again-later messages in December.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) delivered the message in the latest attempt to downplay expectations for Nov. 30, the administration’s self-imposed deadline for fixing ObamaCare’s federal enrollment site.
CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said errors that persist past this weekend would be “intermittent” and, in line with a promise made by the White House, would not affect the vast majority of the site’s users.
But Bataille acknowledged that some would still experience “periods of suboptimal performance” by the system due to either heavy traffic or technical issues that are still being addressed.
“The system will not work perfectly on Dec. 1, but it will work much better than it did in October,” Bataille said.
Speaking of suboptimal performance …
The comments came after HealthCare.gov experienced an unscheduled outage on Monday for one hour. The CMS had recently touted the site for not randomly crashing. Bataille said the problem was remedied quickly by the site’s tech team.
Let’s recall that the pledge last month was specifically that Healthcare.gov would be “fully functional” by December 1. That date was not an accident. In order to have coverage by January 1, enrollees have to complete their enrollment by mid-December, although the administration is trying to get insurers to wait until December 23rd rather than the 15th as the cutoff. If the web portal still can’t handle the enrollments properly and fully by that time — and the 834s to the insurers seem to still be a big problem in that regard:
Behind the scenes, when an individual selects a plan, the federal system transmits a file, known as an “834,” with all of the relevant information about that individual and his or her plan selection.
These files have been plagued by errors, from spouses and children being mixed up to enrollments being duplicated or inadvertently cancelled. According to HHS, they have “completed fixes for two-thirds of the high-priority bugs that our tech team working with issuers identified as being responsible for the issues with 834 transactions and other issuer priorities.”
But according to an insurance industry source, though the 834 problems are getting better, there is still a long way to go. Insurers still haven’t reached the point where they can feel confident that the data is reliable.
As a result, though they have been able to process some payments from individuals, they’ve only been able to do so on piecemeal basis in cases where they are fully confident in the data, often because it’s been verified by hand.
That’s another problem. If the front end starts working better, the deluge of last-minute enrollments to comply with the individual mandate will flood insurers with bad data, which will be impossible to fix by hand in that level of throughput. Let’s also not forget that the subsidy-payment system doesn’t exist yet, either. This announcement only relates to the consumer experience of Healthcare.gov, not the full functionality. Without the subsidy payments to the insurers, there’s still a large question as to whether those subsidy-qualifying enrollees will actually have coverage on January 1 if insurers don’t get the full premiums in hand by December 31st, a deadline which now looks impossible to meet.
Democrats pinned their hopes of competing in the 2014 midterms on the Obama administration’s ability to deliver on this pledge. Now they’re beginning to realize that they’ve hitched their wagons to a failing star:
For Democrats, the politics of the health care law are creating a death spiral of their own. For the White House to protect its signature initiative, it needs to maintain a Democratic Senate majority past 2015. But to do so, Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to insulate vulnerable battleground-state Democrats, who are all too eager to propose their own fixes to the law that may be politically satisfying, but could undermine the fundamentals of the law.
Race-by-race polling conducted over the last month has painted a grim picture of the difficult environment Senate Democrats are facing next year. In Louisiana, a new state survey showed Landrieu’s approval rating is now underwater; she tallied only 41 percent of the vote against her GOP opposition. In Arkansas, where advertising on the health care law began early, Sen. Mark Pryor’s approval sank to 33 percent, a drop of 18 points since last year. A new Quinnipiac survey showed Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who looked like a lock for reelection last month, in a dead heat against little-known GOP opponents. Even a Democratic automated poll from Public Policy Polling showed Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina running neck-and-neck against Republican opposition, with her job disapproval spiking over the last two months. These are the types of numbers that wave elections are made of.
The big picture isn’t any better: The president’s approval rating, which historically correlates with his party’s midterm performance, has dipped below 40 percent in several national surveys. Democrats saw their nine-point lead on the generic ballot in the Quinnipiac survey evaporate in a month, and a CNN/ORC poll released today shows Republicans now holding a two-point lead.
“You want to prevent your race from being about Obamacare. If you enable your race to be about Obamacare, you’re making a mistake,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who’s working for Landrieu. “You need to explain what you’re trying to fix, and you better be trying to fix something. If there’s nothing you want to fix, there’s something wrong with you. At this point, it’s hard to defend the benefits, but you can say we’re not going back to the evils of the old system.”
In the old system, 85% of Americans had health insurance, and 87% were satisfied with their health care. Good luck trying to run on the “evils” of that system, especially after getting an up-close-and-personal look at DemocratCare.