HealthCare.gov: Better, but Not Ready For Prime Time
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The Fiscal Times
December 11, 2013

I've been trying to apply for insurance on HealthCare.gov since the site went live in October. Since I'd like to find an affordable policy for myself and my family of four, I'm still trying. But the site still won't give me access to the application I filed over the phone a month ago.

While the White House has insisted that most of the problems with the site are fixed, there are still plenty of bugs that prevent it from doing its intended mission: Linking Americans with affordable private insurance policies.

Related: Will Obamacare Tech Fixes Plug Political Fallout?

The latest chapter in my two-month-long quest involved trying to bypass the buggy system. Although I was finally able to log on recently after a short respite in the HealthCare.gov "waiting room," I got bounced to an error page that stated my "identity wasn't verified."

This was unexpected since I gave all of my application information verbally to a HealthCare.gov representative in late October on the system's toll-free telephone line. I was assured that someone would get back to me in three weeks. I did receive a call, but without the ability to identify them – or my personal information – I couldn't talk to them. It could've been a scam. I wasn't expecting a call nor did I get a letter confirming the application.

When I called again on Dec. 2, I was told that they had no record of the information I provided. This was troubling since I gave out Social Security numbers for myself and three other family members, dates of birth and other vital information. Where did this information go? They didn't know.

Once again, I was offered an opportunity to provide the application information over the phone, which I declined, since they botched the first attempt. As an alternative, I was given an address in London, Kentucky, to send a copy of my driver's license or voter ID card for identity verification. I did that last week by express mail, which for some reason took three days to reach its destination.

Is a bug in the system actually losing information? Where does the information go if it's not going to insurance companies or online storage? Is it in the cloud? Is the Russian mafia hacking it and selling it? 

Has Washington Really Fixed the System?
There are myriad technical problems with HealthCare.gov that the Obama administration still isn't coming clean on when it spins the tale of this tale of incompetence and management mayhem. Roughly one-third of those who have signed up since Oct. 1 have had computer-generated errors in their enrollment records, according to a recent estimate reported by The Washington Post and disputed by the White House. Exactly how many applicants are experiencing problems hasn't been disclosed.

It's clear that HealthCare.gov still can't handle the hundreds of thousands of visitors who want to use the system during normal business hours. When I ran into a logjam last week, I was ushered into a queue that flashed a screen stating "HealthCare.gov has a lot of visitors." Duh. One helpful option was the ability to enter in my email to inform me when I could get in.

Updated data will be out soon, but reports from earlier this month said that about 100,000 people signed up for policies in November – four times the number registered in October. According to Health and Human Services officials, the website received an estimated 800,000 visitors last Monday, with 375,000 trying to log on before noon.

Other than the ability to handle huge volumes of users, HealthCare.gov may have some back-office problems. Are application forms actually getting to insurers? Of those who are approved for insurance, are they able to submit payment to insurers? There still seem to be problems in this area.

Some of the recent fixes have undoubtedly eased consumer frustration. There is now a "window shopping" feature that allows you to view a variety of policy options. I was able to do this last month through a technical back door that a HealthCare.gov rep told me about, but now it's accessible to more users. 

Overall, though, millions are forced to be patient with the system, which is not easy for most Americans in an age when you can get news and buy things on smartphones.

Despite all of the snafus, millions of people are still willing to put up with HealthCare.gov's numerous bugs to get beyond the technical hornet's nest. If and when the system is fixed it will do something unique in American history: Use a public delivery tool to provide a private product that everyone needs.

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Journalist and speaker John F. Wasik has written 14 books on subjects that range from wealth to ecology to retirement. He writes for Reuters and contributes to Forbes, The New York Times and other publications.