From the first Morning Jolt of an icy December week:
You Know the Latest News on Obamacare Is Bad. But You Don’t Know How It’s Bad.
The threat that Obamacare could end up shutting down volunteer firehouses, the site not working again, the administrators demanding bonuses and raises . . . rough end of the week for Obamacare. But things had to get better this weekend, right?
Behold, members of Congress and their staff, unable to purchase insurance through the exchanges. I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing at the hardships of other people.
Congress itself is now having so much trouble signing up for the Obamacare exchanges that late Friday the top administrator in the House of Representatives laid out a backup plan in case lawmakers and staff can’t get through the process by the time their enrollment ends Monday.
The red flags started reaching critical mass Thursday and Friday, when some staff and members of Congress told House administrators they were having trouble enrolling through the Washington health exchange, known as DC Health Link. The D.C. exchange is the official signup portal for Congress, where members must go to get health care through their job.
Then the state of California decided that they could do whatever they wanted with the personal information that insurance shoppers typed into the site:
Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California’s health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn’t ask to be contacted.
The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.
State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state’s move.
“I’m shocked and dumbfounded,” said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.
Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.
And they wonder why people don’t trust the government!
Then we learned the implementation in Maryland was even worse than anyone imagined:
Although state officials have provided the public scant detail about the troubled launch of Maryland’s version of Obamacare, emails and documents show that the project was beset behind the scenes for months by an array of technical issues, warring contractors and other problems.
Since Maryland’s online health exchange opened Oct. 1 for people to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act — and immediately crashed — the two main companies in charge of the website have taken their fight to court, a corporate project manager was replaced and a high-powered consulting firm was quietly brought in to restore order. Though state officials initially said the crash of the online exchange was an unexpected and fixable problem, emails and documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun through state open-records laws outline serious issues before and after the launch.
The revelations came just days before Rebecca Pearce, the head of the exchange, resigned. State officials announced that move Friday night and pulled Carolyn Quattrocki from the governor’s health reform office to serve as an interim replacement.
Just two weeks before the launch, Pearce visited the prime contractor’s Linthicum headquarters and found a room of empty seats. She fired off an email questioning the company’s commitment to resolve problems and reminding the contractors of what was at stake: “Tonight, I am begging. I don’t know how else to say it: we have got to make this a reality.”
Finally, remember all of those administration officials telling the public to use paper applications if the web site wasn’t working? Well, now they’re not so sure there’s time to process all of those:
Federal health officials, after encouraging alternate sign-up methods amid the fumbled rollout of their online insurance website, began quietly urging counselors around the country this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people in health insurance because of concerns those applications would not be processed in time.
Interviews with enrollment counselors, insurance brokers and a government official who works with navigators in Illinois reveal the latest change in direction by the Obama administration, which had been encouraging paper applications and other means because of all the problems with the federal website. Consumers must sign up for insurance under the federal health overhaul by Dec. 23 in order for coverage to start in January.
“We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper,” said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance.
After a conference call earlier this week with federal health officials, Illinois health officials sent a memo Thursday to their roughly 1,600 navigators saying there is no way to complete marketplace enrollment through a paper application. The memo, which Claffey said was based on guidance from federal officials, said paper applications should be used only if other means aren’t available.
So . . . yeah, it was as bad a weekend for Washington-run health care as it was for the Washington Redskins.