Obamacare Odyssey: A Personal Navigation Through Healthcare.gov
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Midnight, November 30 has come and gone, the self-imposed deadline for the White House to iron out the many, many problems with its Healthcare.gov website. President Barack Obama and his administration promised to improve its health insurance marketplace by the end of November for the "vast majority" of people who sign on. The question is, did they deliver? More importantly, is it even really possible for us to know?
From the start, the problem wasn't that Healthcare.gov didn't work. The problem was that it didn't work well. As anyone whose spent some time in IT will tell you, those are two completely different issues. You can fix something that doesn't work. When the engine turns over, computer boots up or website launches, the problem is solved. Improving performance on a system that doesn't work well, however, can become a tech support nightmare.
There's no flag drop for a project that needs to work better, no finish line where Obama's team can say it's all done. There's just a series of incremental fixes which will never actually end, since it's always possible to improve performance a little bit. That makes the administration's progress hard to review. I can log in today, but I could have logged in on October 1 too. The odds just weren't in my favor back then . How can I tell whether or not I just got lucky today?
Does Healthcare.gov work better than it did at launch? Absolutely. The crush of public and media attention over the weekend would have brought the old system right back down in flames, and that didn't happen. Is it completely fixed? There's really no such thing.
Still, to test the system out in a thoroughly un-scientific manner, I decided to go shopping for my own health insurance for next year. Thanks to the fact that the Freelancer's Guild doesn't extend its health coverage to Illinois, I'll need to visit Healthcare.gov sooner or later after all.
My first impression was the same I've had since this entire affair started two months ago. As a measure of basic competence, the website's problems cannot be overstated. As a consumer issue, however, I'm simply not that worried. The front page comes with options to sign up for health care by phone, form or in person, the same three ways we managed to enroll in services both public and private for the entirety of the 20th Century. Why getting off the couch is acceptable for a driver's license but catastrophic for health care escapes me.
But competence counts, and by every measure Obama and team didn't just drop the ball this past October, they never even made it onto the field.
This time the process worked more or less smoothly, up to a point. First, the good news: I got the opportunity to purchase health insurance. After filling out multiple forms, far fewer than when I bought a plan directly through Blue Cross/Blue Shield, I reached a screen that could take down my payment information and enroll me in a plan.