Not surprisingly, after moving the goalposts half a dozen times for the November 30 relaunch of Healthcare.gov, the Obama Administration couldn’t get within 30 yards of the end zone, but they declared a touchdown anyway. It was positively surreal to watch bureaucrats high-five each other for a job well done when it obviously wasn’t. They’re nowhere near the full functionality that was promised when the November 30 date was set. Evidence suggests they haven’t even met the lowered expectations of 80 percent functionality.
This is exactly what critics anticipated. There’s been some progress on the ObamaCare website, but considering what a complete fiasco it was at launch, that’s not much of a metric. The Washington Post report on the November 30 festivities is packed full of unintentional comedy, including the Post uncritically relaying crisis manager Jeff Zients’ claims that the website is now “working more than 90 percent of the time” – that’s obviously not true, and Zients himself began walking those claims back almost immediately – plus a howler from Zients in which he compares the current performance of the exchange to its condition on Launch Day. As you may recall, when the Administration’s stonewall of lies and evasions finally cracked, and they released the Day One figures, it turned out that only six people had enrolled in ObamaCare. It’s a stunning embarrassment for the Administration to boast about having cleared that exceptionally low bar:
“Bottom line, HealthCare.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st,” when the site was launched, Zients said in a teleconference with reporters Sunday morning.
Even with the improved performance, some people are likely to encounter problems on the site. And there is another worry — reports sent to insurance companies about who has enrolled in health plans include errors that could cause problems when people try to use their new insurance plans next year.
Administration officials, in talking to reporters, were careful not to declare a full-fledged victory. In a report issued Sunday, officials with the Department of Health and Human Services said the next few months would require further work to “improve and enhance the website and continue to improve the consumer experience.” Officials have also said repeatedly that consumers might still encounter difficulties and urged them to use the call center and seek help from specially trained personnel.
Still, the announcement is a milestone for the administration, which has struggled to improve the Web site since its botched Oct. 1 launch.
Welcome to the Obama New Normal of lowered expectations, where abject failure is celebrated as a “milestone.” Even by the incredibly loose and subjective goals they set during the panicky days of mid-October, Team Obama failed. There’s no achievement here. It’s like a plumber demanding a bonus because your toilet only explodes half the time when you flush it. ”We’re doing better” is not an acceptable status report, given the promises made to drag ObamaCare through a couple of brutal news cycles.
Also, part of the spin surge designed to make it look as if great strides have taken involves admitting just how bad HealthCare.gov has been, particularly in October. That’s something the Administration worked hard to keep hidden, until they decided they could milk a few political points by revealing it, secure in the knowledge that few reporters would respond, “Holy cow, you guys were lying through your teeth about just how bad things were in October!”
No private-sector CEO could get away with such a celebration of inadequacy. Obama used to love comparing the Healthcare.gov rollout to an iPhone launch. Not even he has the chutzpah to keep making that comparison. Imagine a boardroom meeting where the head of the iPhone project brags that the product works more than half the time now, and that’s a huge improvement over the $500 million launch two months ago, when only six people were able to use it successfully.
Here’s more of that unintentional comedy from the Post report, where they relay a couple of “success stories” from the relaunched exchange… and neither of them was a success.
Among those who tried to log on was Sandy Kush, 49, an unemployed medical transcriptionist from Illinois who tried six times in October to use HealthCare.gov, with no success.
She tried again Sunday and, with the help of a call-center representative, was able to enroll in Medicaid — a stopgap measure, she said, until she can find a new job that offers insurance. The whole experience took about an hour and a half but “was pretty smooth,” she said.
Others reported problems getting all the way through the process. Liz Gallops, 33, a North Carolina insurance broker who has tried unsuccessfully to get coverage through the site, said that HealthCare.gov seemed to be working better Sunday but that at one point she got a message stating that the system “cannot finish your application now.”
Whoopee! Another person signed up for Medicaid! That’s not an ObamaCare enrollment. The other person cited by the Post tried to enroll in ObamaCare and failed. Notably, there was no effort to demonstrate the “new and improved” system for the media during the big “Mission Accomplished” press conference, because the Administration flacks know better than to punch up this bug-ridden disaster and ignite a scandal firestorm by having it crash during the demo. CNN tried to use the relaunched system live on the air… and it crashed on them:
Later in the Post report, the walkback of all those rosy 90 percent operation claims begins:
The online system is stable — not crashing — more than 90 percent of the time, officials said. And the report said that the site can handle as many as 50,000 shoppers at the same time and up to 800,000 visits a day.
The report said the administration has yet to meet at least one of its key goals: reducing the site’s average response time to half a second. And government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, cautioned last week that they will not know if they have expanded the site’s carrying capacity to 50,000 users at once until they have that many users online.
This is beyond ludicrous. They’re admitting that they pulled all these wonderful numbers out of their posteriors, and warning people not to push the system anywhere near the capacity they’ve been boasting about! And that capacity is really nothing to brag about anyway. 50,000 simultaneous connections for the 36 states using the federal exchange system? They’ve got 82 business days to enroll 7 million people before the end of March, when the individual mandate comes crashing down. Only 16 business days remain until the revised cutoff date for securing 2014 insurance that would be effective on January 1, and we know at least five million people have been blown out of their existing plans because of ObamaCare. There’s no way this fabulously expensive but incredibly weak system can process the 300,00 + enrollments per day that would be needed to repair the damage from Obama’s Big Lie, and frankly, there’s little evidence of a surge in demand to buy those overpriced ObamaCare policies.
It’s extremely telling that the Administration continues to prattle on about “visits per day” and “response times” for the web pages to load. That sounds like happy horse patties designed to reach Low Information Voters who gave up on trying to use the system because they heard it was “slow.” Clearing up the slow-motion responses and “page not found errors” people were experiencing when they merely tried to log into the system is less than half the battle for improving the front end, and insurance providers are issuing dark reminders about critical back-end systems that are delivering useless garbage data, or not working at all:
The report did not address the “back-end” parts of the systems that consumers do not see, including the error-filled enrollment reports. Insurers have warned that if the problem is not fixed soon, some people may show up for doctor’s appointments in January only to find that the insurance company has no record of their enrollment.
“Insurers are still receiving enrollment files that are duplicative or include missing or inaccurate information,” Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s main lobbying group, said Sunday. “In some cases they aren’t receiving those enrollment files at all.”
The New York Times has more details about the chaos at insurance companies, as they struggle to cope with the flow of data sewage pouring from the outflow pipes of the worst online system launch in history:
“Until the enrollment process is working from end to end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage,” said Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.
The issues are vexing and complex. Some insurers say they have been deluged with phone calls from people who believe they have signed up for a particular health plan, only to find that the company has no record of the enrollment. Others say information they received about new enrollees was inaccurate or incomplete, so they had to track down additional data — a laborious task that would not be feasible if data is missing for tens of thousands of consumers.
In still other cases, insurers said, they have not been told how much of a customer’s premium will be subsidized by the government, so they do not know how much to charge the policyholder.
[…] Insurers said they had received calls from consumers requesting insurance cards because they thought they had enrolled in a health plan through the federal website, but the insurers said they had not been notified.
“Somehow people are getting lost in the process,” the insurance executive said. “If they go to a doctor or a hospital and we have no record of them, that will be very upsetting to consumers.”
Imagine how much worse that confusion will become if the almost completely non-functional front end of Healthcare.gov really does start working better, and dumps five or ten times as much junk data in the insurance industry’s lap!
This is, again, beyond ridiculous. The Administration adamantly refuses to disclose the one and only metric of success that really matters: the number of people who have successfully processed their first payment for an ObamaCare insurance policy. By law, that’s the condition that must be met to secure valid coverage. And Team Obama still spews absurd lies about not having the data, every time someone asks for the number of valid policies that have been purchased through the exchange, preferring to babble about how many people have merely visited the website, or how the process of setting up an online account has gotten so much smoother, or how an awful lot of people have briefly fluttered around Healthcare.gov before getting shuffled off to Medicaid.
I have yet to hear a single official number from this Administration that excludes Medicaid applicants and focuses solely on ObamaCare enrollment. It is entirely possible that the number of valid insurance policies sold through the federal exchange is very nearly zero. The New York Times report says insurance providers will consider policies valid if the government hasn’t ponied up the taxpayer’s share of the premiums yet – good thing, because the part of Healthcare.gov that handles such payments doesn’t exist yet – but they won’t be able to handle the financial burden of paying claims without receiving subsidies for long. There were supposed to be over 700,000 fully completed ObamaCare enrollments by now; the heavily cooked number pushed by the Administration is only 100,000, and that includes Medicaid referrals, plus fragmentary online shopping cart data.
The Wall Street Journal isn’t buying any nebulous claims of relative success for an Administration with a proven track record of deception and obfuscation:
If this miracle fix is real, the White House will open the ObamaCare black box to an independent audit, or maybe start by answering questions honestly. But on a conference call with reporters Sunday, HHS refused to say how much progress the team had made on technical problems that are seeding insurance companies with bad information about who is signing up and for what products. It knows the insurers will keep quiet lest they make themselves political targets.
The mission accomplished pose is another attempt to power through a political deadline. Americans who have now discovered the Administration’s other false claims—you can keep your old plan and your doctor, and the new plans are better—can be forgiven for waiting to see the actual results.
No serious journalist would accept the Obama Administration’s report card for its own performance. Their claims are meaningless. Absolute transparency and the disclosure of all hard data for independent review should be the non-negotiable demand from the American people. Reporters should stand as one and walk out of any press conference that doesn’t begin with someone from HHS or CMS demonstrating a completely successful purchase of insurance through Healthcare.gov – because frankly, at this point, there is no hard evidence that anyone has been able to do that yet.
Team Obama is still treating this as a political spin game, while the lives of American citizens are turned upside-down by the foolish Affordable Care Act. Hard deadlines are fast approaching. The people and their representatives should have pure, unspun data so they can make solid decisions about how to proceed. Here’s the bottom line about the big November 30 relaunch: if the system had been launched in the state that exists today, it would still have been a national scandal.
Update: More low comedy from the Administration, as HHS Secretary Kathleeen Sebelius “urges Americans to visit the site during off-peak hours – generally in the morning or at night.” Enjoy the New Normal of failure, in which incompetent bureaucrats in charge of trillion-dollar agencies bring you a $500 million website that you should only try using at three o’clock in the morning.
Update: Pete Doocy of Fox News tried to use the “new and improved” Healthcare.gov this morning, and this is what he got. Serves him right for trying to access the Peoples’ Glorious Health Care System during peak hours!