Obamacare Tech Fail May Do What the GOP Couldn’t
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The Fiscal Times
October 21, 2013

Republicans failed spectacularly in their plan to use the budget and debt ceiling crisis to derail the implementation of Obamacare.

Their grand strategy led to a 16-day government shutdown—which was defused last week by a bargain to reopen the federal government and raise the debt limit through early next year, in return for a largely cosmetic tweak to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Now, ironically, the odds of portions of Obamacare getting delayed for a year look better than ever. The Tea Party could have won without their self-defeating protest, simply allowing the glitches to pile up after what appears to be an incompetent launch of the online insurance exchanges this month.

The myriad of obstacles raise questions as to whether the White House will be forced to push back deadlines and even postpone the tax penalty for Americans who forgo health coverage.


“There are so many key technical problems you can’t sum them up,” said Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a policy and marketplace consulting firm. “I mean, it’s [Internet] architectural problems at the front end, it’s coding problems in terms of the inefficiency in the way the system works and wastes people’s time, and it’s screens that freeze. And then connections between insurance companies simply aren’t working.”

The president may look as though he emerged from the budget shutdown stronger, thanks to a profoundly fractured Republican caucus that fell under the sway of Tea Party types, including Ted Cruz. However, that newfound strength in the White House might easily turn out to be a mirage. The mushrooming series of technical problems are validating Tea Party criticisms of Obamacare.

Obama is expected to address the problems Monday as part of a health care event at the White House, according to the Associated Press. Cabinet members and other top administration officials will also be traveling around the country in the coming weeks to encourage sign-ups.

Meanwhile, the technology have tripled, as reported by Reuters.  "Why this went from a ceiling of $93.7 million to $292 million is hard to fathom," said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group that analyzes government contracting. "Something changed. It suggests they ran into problems and knew last spring that they couldn't do it for $93.7 million. They just blew through the original ceiling. Where was the contract oversight?"

Only a tiny pool of people has successfully navigated the virtual insurance markets that were created to service all 50 states and the District of Columba. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the law would provide 15 million Americans with insurance this year, but the tech troubles suggest that enrollment could be a fraction of that figure.

Department of Health and Human Services officials and government contractors responsible for the design have been frantically tweaking the system in hopes of overcoming problems that originally were blamed on millions of people trying to log on in the early going – an excuse that even President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders have now dismissed.

Obama last Tuesday said that healthcare.gov had "way more glitches than I think are acceptable."

Those difficulties might be enough to undermine the entire program, unless the administration can swiftly correct them because a substantial mix of healthy young people signing up for insurance are essential to help pay for older and sicker people. In a sense, insurance premiums from healthier individuals subsidize the expenses for the unhealthy, helping to hold down total costs. Without the proper balance, insurance companies could take a financial beating and premiums would continue to spike.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.