The Corner

Is Really Fixed?

In a very “mission accomplished” moment, the Obama administration has declared victory in fixing (the actual HHS report is here).

But does that mean it’s fixed? There is no denying that some progress has been made, especially if you compare it with the original website’s performance. However, as Peter Suderman at Reason noted this morning, the administration’s stated goal was never to fix the whole thing, but to fix parts of the website while pushing some very significant pieces onto the back burner.  He writes:

The White House’s stated goal of improving the website so that 80 percent of users can get all the way through the system still means that one in five users won’t make it through the digital gauntlet. It also claims that the site is stable and accessible 90 percent of the time, a figure it only gets by excluding the hours of scheduled maintenance it undergoes each day.

And that’s if the website even works as well as the administration says it’s supposed to. Which is, at best, a very big if. According to The Washington Post, some progress has been made, but the techies and bureaucrats attempting to patch together the site have not fully met their own internal goals for performance yet. That would certainly fit the pattern. All throughout the development of the online insurance exchange system, the administration has claimed that Obamacare’s tech is working, or just about to work—but its promises have repeatedly been proven wrong.

Given its history, the administration’s claims have to be taken with a cargo ship full of salt—especially since there’s no good way to independently confirm that the website is working as well as the administration claims. You just have to take their word for it.

Even if the website appears to be working on the user end, there’s no guarantee that less visible functions are performing adequately. Insurers have been reporting dropped or incorrectly transmitted enrollment data since the exchanges launched. And according to The New York Times, the repair team prioritized front-end fixes for consumers over accurate insurance-company connections. So the site might appear to be working just fine, until you try to actually use the insurance that you thought you purchased. 

So some 70 percent of the website works better for about 80 percent of the customers who want to buy insurance. As you may remember, when Henry Chao, the deputy IT director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified before Congress a few weeks ago, he told lawmakers that “some 30 to 40 percent of the exchange functionality has yet to been constructed, including some of the crucial insurer payment systems.” That’s right: Even though one central piece of Obamacare is to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for people to buy insurance, that part hasn’t been built yet. That means more problems down the road. 

It is obviously an improvement, but I am thinking that the administration is taking a real risk by calling this a victory.

And, as I have explained before, even when the website is finally up and running, Democrats may be up for an unpleasant surprise. 

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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