Politics

Marc Caputo: Obamacare computer glitches resemble political gaffe

 

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Obamacare has a new antagonist: The Obamacare sign-up website.

Over the weekend, healthcare.gov was pulled down for maintenance at off-peak hours because of persistent glitches people encountered once the site went, er, “live” on Tuesday.

The computer snafu was like a gift to Republicans, who have suffered in the polls since precipitating a partial-government shutdown over Obamacare that happened to coincide with the website’s launch.

With each reported website woe, it’s easier for Republicans to draw a line between a possible computer programming failure and a government program failure. Unlike the government shutdown, Republicans bear no discernable blame for the online shutdown.

In damage control, President Barack Obama and his administration urged patience and understanding. They’ve released web-traffic numbers, but refuse to disclose enrollment figures.

“What’s happened is the website got overwhelmed by the volume," Obama told the Associated Press in an interview released Saturday.

“Folks are working around the clock and have been systematically reducing the wait times,” Obama said. “But we are confident that over the course of the six months — because it's important to remember people have six months to sign up — that we are going to probably exceed what anybody expected in terms of the amount of interest that people have."

Wait.

What?

How could the Obama Administration not design a system to handle demand from the start? Isn’t that a raison d'être of the Affordable Care Act — that there’s demand or need from up to 48 million uninsured Americans (about 3.8 million in Florida, the second-least insured state behind Texas)?

And is this really a case of a great online product suffering from being too desirable?

Computer experts have their doubts.

“I'm betting it's a mixture of volume, scaling up, and definitely some code problems,” Clay Ewing, a University of Miami software expert told the Miami’s Herald’s Florida Health Watch blog.

In encountering error messages when he logged on, Ewing speculated: “There are several points of potential failure.”

“This is not solely a traffic issue,” Dan Mendelson, CEO of consultant Avalere Health, told Kaiser Health News. “There are more underlying issues that have to be resolved.”

Software aside, the most-noticeable failure is political.

The glitches are the computer equivalent of a politician’s gaffe that bolster an opponent’s criticism.

But Republicans only have so much credibility in the public’s eyes when it comes to health insurance and the partial-government shutdown, polls show.

A Quinnipiac University national poll last week found Obama was more trusted than the GOP in Congress on handing healthcare.

The Affordable Care Act was opposed 47-45 percent, but the poll showed the move to shutdown major activities of the federal government over Obamacare was opposed 72-22 percent, with only Republican voters favoring it 49-45 percent.

Still, though House Republicans precipitated the shutdown over Obamacare, Democrats have helped prolong it.

Democrats have refused piecemeal bills to open up parts of the budget again, saying they don’t want Obamacare defunded by process of elimination. Democrats also oppose delaying the act for a year, but respondents in a FOX News poll found that the public supports delay 57-39 percent.

As a result, Obama still has significant culpability for the shutdown in public opinion, though people are more likely to blame Republicans more. A majority of voters told Quinnipiac they want compromise from both Obama and Republican leaders, with the GOP perceived as less-willing to compromise.

Republicans demands haven’t been clear or consistent, either.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a conservative Republican from Lakeland, sounded notes of concern when he spoke to The New York Times. Ross pointed out the health act isn’t harmed much by the government shutdown, and Republicans should remember the budget concessions they’ve won.

“We can’t lose all that when there’s no connection now between the shutdown and the funding of Obamacare,” he told The Times. “I think now it’s a lot about pride.”

A number of critics believe the act is such a failed policy that it will collapse.

It’s too early to pass final judgment on Obamacare because so many thousands, if not millions, have not been able to even access the so-called “exchanges” online to see what individual insurance plan is best for them, what it will offer, how much they’ll pay out of pocket or how much in subsidies, if any, they could receive to defray the costs.

A bigger question looms: How many healthy people who are uninsured decide to sign up instead of just paying the penalty? If only high-cost individuals sign up for the plans, it can damage the plans’ risk-spreading viability and plunge them into what the industry calls a “death spiral.”

Assuming the healthcare.gov website is up and fixed soon, we’ll be left with this question going forward: Were the penalties and policies of Obamacare as well thought-out as its website?

Read more Marc Caputo stories from the Miami Herald

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