Obamacare: Taxpayers in the Hole for $1.5 Trillion
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The Fiscal Times
March 27, 2014

“What the hell is this, a joke?” Speaker of the House John Boehner said in reaction to news this week that yet another “deadline” in the Affordable Care Act had been unilaterally delayed by the Obama administration. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the joke is on the American taxpayer.

Late Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services – which has taken to bragging about “enrollment” numbers that fall millions short of their original goals – announced that the March 31st deadline for open enrollment had become more of a guideline.   

For those who could not navigate the troublesome Healthcare.gov web portal in time to meet the cutoff date for accessing approved plans, HHS would now keep the portal open and plans available for purchase, as long as users attested to the fact that they were “in line” for processing before the deadline. Since the announcement came almost a week before the deadline, that either suggests that it typically takes longer than that to complete an application, or that the website is more popular than a Lady Gaga concert. 

Related: White House Extends Enrollment Time for Obamacare

How, though, will HHS determine who has waited in line because the web portal could not keep up with the demand? The Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein reports that the simple answer is that they won’t bother to try. Consumers will check a blue box in their on-line application to self-attest to their earlier, pre-deadline efforts. “This method will rely on an honor system,” Goldstein writes. 

“[The] government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.” The new deadline for open enrollment will now shift to somewhere “about mid-April,” although no one appears to know why it would take a supposedly well-functioning web portal 15 days to process enrollment applications from people attempting to access it for the final six days of an already-extended enrollment period of six months since the rollout last October 1st.

Actually, we do have a couple of hints at what may cause such a delay. The Associated Press reports that, contrary to White House insistence that the Healthcare.gov portal is working smoothly, the site runs more slowly than enrollment portals run by insurers. In fact, response times from the server run twice as long, according to Compuware, a firm that measures website performance. The nine-second response time would garner an “unacceptable” rating in the private sector.

Related: Insurers on Obamacare--Expect Premium Prices to Soar

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the people most responsible for forcing Obamacare through Congress in 2010, has another theory. When challenged on the latest delay in the rollout, Reid responded that it was necessary because “people are not educated about how to use the Internet.” 

First, one has to invoke Boehner’s reaction, because this is clearly a joke; the Internet has become ubiquitous in American commerce – which is why Democrats like Reid created Healthcare.gov as the center of Obamacare enrollment in the first place. The problem isn’t that people don’t know how to use the Internet, it’s that HHS and the Obama administration has been incompetent in building a web portal, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars over more than three years prior to its launch. 

The laughs continue in the list of hardship claims that can win consumers an extension to the open-enrollment cut-off date. HHS released a guidance document the next day outlining all seventeen ways to qualify, among them natural disasters, personal emergencies, and oddly enough, immigration. Fourteen of the seventeen qualifiers have to do with system errors, and not just with Healthcare.gov. 

Related: One Third of Uninsured Won’t Sign Up for Obamacare 

Three of the reasons have to do with incompetence or misconduct by “navigators” and/or caseworkers from HHS, two of them relate to erroneous Medicaid/CHIP eligibility status, and another two are failures of the system to communicate properly with insurers, thanks to a back end that apparently still isn’t fully functional six months after the rollout. 

Had this been the only delay in the program, one might have had some sympathy for the issues that come in the final days of open enrollment. However, this is just the latest in a series of unilateral changes since the October 1st launch of Obamacare’s exchange. 

Politico lists eight “major” delays and deadline changes since that point, including three instances of enrollment deadlines being shifted outward, an extension of high-risk pools that were supposed to be eclipsed by the offering of coverage through the exchanges, and another delay in the employer mandate after a July 2013 one-year delay – all of which violate the statutes of the Affordable Care Act. 

Perhaps Kathleen Sebelius can explain her Congressional testimony to Speaker Boehner by claiming to have been joking when she insisted that there would be no further delays in Obamacare earlier this month. Sebelius was asked specifically by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) about any potential pushbacks on the open-enrollment deadline two weeks ago, and replied, “No sir.” 

Related: Consumers Hit With Surprise Tax in Obamacare Premium 

The day prior to that testimony, the spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told reporters that HHS didn’t have the authority to do so. "We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period," Julie Bataille said. "In fact, we don't actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014."  

I guess they were just kidding when they said that, eh?           

The biggest joke, though, is the pride in which the White House promoted its five millionth sign-up earlier this month. The imposition of the Obamacare regiment kicked as many as six million Americans out of their existing plans by the end of 2013 despite the “you can keep your plan” promise, which means that we still have not yet hit the break-even point on market churn.

Those numbers are for sign-ups and not enrollments, which require premium payments to conclude; as many as 20 percent of those sign-ups have yet to make that payment. A significant percentage of those who have enrolled have done so in Medicaid programs, not private insurance.

Related: 10 Worst Places to Live for Obamacare

All of that doesn’t begin to address the supposedly “fierce urgency of now” that demanded a top-down, command-economy government program to deal with the estimated 40 million Americans without insurance who should have flooded the system looking for coverage. 

If this system works as well as the Obama administration insists, where are all of the uninsured? Why haven’t we seen massive numbers of enrollments from the beginning if that was such a crisis as to require the kind of intervention Democrats imposed, at an estimated cost of $1.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years?          

That is the real joke, and it’s on us. Don’t expect us to laugh about it. Instead, we should double our efforts to jettison the jokers who are responsible for it.

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Political analyst Edward Morrissey has been writing and blogging since 2003. He is also a senior editor at Hot Air, part of the Townhall/Hot Air group of conservative publications, and hosts a weekly radio show in Minnesota.