Politics

ObamaCare still isn’t working, but don’t worry, the aristocracy will be fine

ObamaCare still isn't working, but don't worry, the aristocracy will be fine

Remember the billowing cloud of spin that poured from the Administration over the weekend, declaring that the ObamaCare exchange system was a billion zillion percent improved?  The media largely accepted this uncritically and passed it along as “news,” even though it took less than 24 hours to discover it wasn’t true.  The federal exchange site crashed on the same day all those triumphant “Healthcare.gov is fixed!” dispatches were being written.  The local exchange in Washington, D.C. went down even harder, leading to mass emails to Congressional staff warning them about system outages.

Of course, this is no problem for the personal staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), because he won them a priceless Ruling Class exemption from using the exchanges altogether.  But everyone else who works for Congress started getting a bit nervous… until they got the kind of insurance extension the rest of ObamaCare-ravaged America can only dream about.  Audrey Hudson reports for the Colorado Observer:

Members of Congress and their staff will be allowed to keep their health insurance past the end of the year deadline because of persistent problems plaguing the DC Health Link, The Colorado Observer has learned.

A memo issued to House staffers Thursday night said that the Obama administration has been made aware of the “significant problems preventing members and staff in Washington, D.C. and in district offices from enrolling in a healthcare plan.”

The memo from Chief Administrative Officer of the House Dan Strodel said that while they are awaiting a decision to keep the enrollment time open past Dec. 9, health insurance coverage would be extended through Jan. 31.

This might come as annoying news to the good people of Colorado, since at least a quarter-million of them found out the hard way that Barack Obama was lying when he promised they would be able to keep their plans if they liked their plans.  It might lead to a bit of tension among the state’s political representatives, too:

Several Colorado lawmakers and staffers planned to enroll in the DC exchange, including Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, and Ed Perlmutter.

The deadline extension will apply to them, but not to Colorado Republicans who opted to enroll in the Colorado exchange, including Reps. Scott Tipton, and Cory Gardner. Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn has not announced which exchange he will opt for.

Well, hopefully the insurance companies will be able to keep all that straight.  By the way, have you noticed how every single disaster ripping through Barack Obama’s trillion-dollar federal takeover becomes something the private sector insurance companies have to deal with?  The system can’t calculate their subsidies, so they have to prepare their own estimates.  The system is pumping out useless junk data, so insurance providers have to get in touch with consumers and figure out which policies are valid.  The system can’t remit premium payments, so consumers have been told to send checks directly to the insurance companies.

Some of these hasty last-minute fixes give the private sector only days or weeks to come up with solutions… to problems caused by a system the feds couldn’t get right after three and a half years of effort, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent.  I thought the central premise of ObamaCare is that Big Government is better at handling these things than the private sector, but the recurring story over the past two months is how the private sector has to pull Big Government’s bacon out of the fire, over and over again.

When you get right down to it, the one and only accurate measurement of whether Obama is “working” is also a private-sector item: the processing of payments for insurance policies.  By law, no insurance policy is valid unless the first premium has been paid, which seems like a reasonable standard.  It was never a problem until Barack Obama crashed into the china shop riding his trillion-dollar bull, because the private sector generally excels at getting paid.  But now, even as we hear Administration spin about a huge surge of “visitors” or “enrollments” – none of which is even slightly relevant – we’re never told how many paid-up valid policies have been fully processed.  This makes it foolish to declare that Healthcare.gov and the state exchanges are “working,” and it’s scandalous that the media is willing to repeat such assertions without evidence.  We literally do not know how well it’s working, because Team Obama won’t tell us.

John Ekdahl at Ace of Spades has an interesting theory about the “enrollment surge” reported after the Thanksgiving weekend, which he notes was based entirely on extrapolations from two days’ worth of data – an extrapolation the media was very happy to perform, no questions asked, even though Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spent every day of the last two months insisting that the federal exchange system is not capable of producing enrollment reports that fast.  Remember?  Every single time she was asked to produce up-to-the-minute figures, she swore up and down that it could not be done – the system was physically incapable of coughing up the numbers.  But suddenly, after November 30, BOOM!  Here’s two days of data, media!  They lapped it up like cream and ran stories about how much the system had improved… never going back to notice that nothing beyond those two days was ever subsequently provided.

In other words, the media got suckered again, and Ekdahl has a very sound idea for what those two days of enrollment data really mean:

So, here’s my theory. These 29,000 new enrollees over those two website deadline days was not a spike in enrollment; they were the backlogged November enrollments that had gotten caught in this data communications black hole. The information was fixed and these people were then formally enrolled over these two days. Boom, there’s your enrollment spike.

[...] We’ll see what happens later in the month. If I’m right, this will all catch up with them. If there is one thing we’ve seen from this bungled operation is that they’re panicked and will gladly trade a long-term loss for an immediate short-term win. Just get through today’s news cycle. I could be wrong, of course. It’s just a theory of mine. But it all does seem convenient.

I would follow up by asking how much of that possibly phony “enrollment surge” made it all the way through the system and became validated by a premium payment.  CNN Money ran a story about the payment situation on Thursday:

Here’s the timeline: Consumers have until Dec. 23 to pick an insurance plan on healthcare.gov, the federal Obamacare exchange handling enrollment for 36 states, if they want to be covered at the start of the new year. Once they do, a final screen confirms they’ve completed their application, but warns that they have to pay their first premium for coverage to be activated.

The site then provides a payment button that takes them to their insurer’s website. Some companies accept online payments, but others give consumers information about how to take care of the bill.

Those who live in the 14 states (plus the District of Columbia) with their own exchanges face different deadlines. In Oregon, for instance, residents had to submit initial applications by Dec 4, while Californians have until Jan. 6 to make their first payment. Those planning to sign up this month should check the deadlines of both their exchange and their chosen insurer.

We’re rapidly approaching a vague, but very real, deadline where it will become impossible to process payments in time to secure coverage.  A few private companies are giving up the data about payments that Team Obama adamantly refuses to disclose, and it doesn’t look good at all:

One insurer, Physicians Health Plan of Northern Indiana, has received payments from only about 20% of applicants, nearly all using the firm’s online portal, said Jim Brunnemer, the chief financial officer. It is sending invoices and email reminders to those who haven’t yet sealed the deal. If payment isn’t made by New Year’s Eve, PHP has been told by federal officials that it must void the application.

The Administration should be compelled to release the data it’s been hoarding and tell us how payments through the federal exchange are coming along.  (We’re going to find out the hard way in January, as we start hearing stories about people who sought treatment at doctors’ offices and hospitals, only to be told their ObamaCare insurance isn’t valid.)  Meanwhile, the private sector is once again stepping up to help victims of federal incompetence:

Another complication is that insurers also don’t have a lot of time to process applications and send out ID cards. The timeline, particularly over the holiday week, will prove “challenging” for some companies, one industry executive said.

It usually takes 10 days for Scott & White Health Plan to activate an applicant, said Allan Einboden, chief executive of the Texas-based insurer. But the company will work with new enrollees to make sure that their prescriptions and other medical needs are covered in the early days of the new year.

“We have mechanisms to get people by,” he said.

The ObamaCare system is still throwing a blizzard of useless garbage data at insurance companies, a problem far worse than uncritically-related Administration spin would have you believe.  As reported by Politico, these “glitches” are all too common in the supposedly more functional state exchanges, too:

Many of these 14 states and the District of Columbia have been eager to tout the success of their own exchanges compared with the bungled federal portal, but they now appear to be worrying about back-end problems similar to those afflicting HealthCare.gov.

It’s a new twist in the unfolding saga of so-called 834 forms — industry jargon for the application files that insurers receive when someone signs up for coverage through an exchange.

Insurers in Kentucky and New York, for example, say they’ve received flawed 834 enrollment forms from their local exchanges, though the extent of the errors is unclear. Washington state has already had to correct thousands of 834s with faulty information about federal tax credits.

Several state exchanges waited until late last month to even start sending application data to insurers, meaning potential errors haven’t had much time to surface.

At the least, these issues run counter to the popular storyline: that states’ enrollment systems have vastly outperformed the Obama administration’s effort. At the worst, they could endanger coverage for thousands of people who think they’re already enrolled for the start of 2014.

You might recall that back when Barack Obama’s crap system was completely non-functional, and people discovered the toll-free help number he directed them to was equally useless, the Administration began advising consumers to use fax and snail mail to submit their applications.  Politico notes this left California with a backlog of 35,000 faxed applications it hasn’t been able to process yet.

And nobody is willing to be honest about this.  State governments are playing their cards as close to the vest as this outrageously opaque Administration does.  It’s all lies, obfuscations, half-truths, distractions, and vague assurances.  I assure everyone reading this post that the information-technology people working for this nightmarish system know what the real numbers are – they most certainly know the only number that truly matters, the number of first premium payments completely processed to date.  But it looks like the American people will be kept in the dark until chaos erupts at clinics from coast to coast in January.

Oh, well.  At least we can rest easily knowing that our D.C. aristocrats and their personal staffers are taken care of.

Update: The New Republic claims, somewhat unconvincingly, that the error rate from Healthcare.gov insurance transmissions has been reduced from the 30 percent levels reported for November (and unknown, but probably even higher, rates in October, although as we now know, the number of enrollments processed during the unholy disaster of the ObamaCare launch was almost negligible) to 10 percent today.  At least, that’s the word from sources working on the federal exchange system.  No claims are made for the error rates from the state exchanges.

And this is supposed to be comforting.  The tone of the New Republic piece is meant to reassure liberals – don’t worry, guys, only 10 percent of the enrollments processed by the federal exchange are junk.  If all 5.5 million of the people who lost insurance due to ObamaCare applied for new coverage, that means over 500,000 of them would unknowingly have invalid coverage next year… and that’s supposed to be good.  The apologists for Obama’s disastrous scheme are reduced to arguing that a 10 percent error rate, on what they claim would ultimately be over 40 million uninsured people seeking insurance – plus the 5 million policies killed by ObamaCare, with millions more to come – is quite literally close enough for government work.

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