A “Fix” for Obamacare

Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky wrote in their optimistically titled Wall Street Journal article, “Healthcare.gov’s Flaws Found, Fixes Eyed,” that, among other things,

By Thursday morning, a new tool that allows users to preview plans without registering appeared on the site with little fanfare.

I’ll come back to that.  First, though, here’s a bit of the backstory on that claim, also from Weaver and Rasdnofsky’s article.

Much of the problem stems from a design element that requires users of the federal site, which serves 36 states, to create accounts before shopping for insurance, according to policy and technology experts.  The site, HealthCare.gov, was initially going to include an option to browse before registering, but that tool was delayed, people familiar with the situation said.

The upshot of this decision (which was made not for technical reasons but so that a purely politically determined deadline for the Web site’s rollout could be met) was that at any point along the sequence of steps involved in account generation, a failure—a “glitch”—could halt the entire process.  Those bottleneck points include

  • software for collection of user information
  • software transferring data to a system used by Medicare’s Enterprise Identification Management
  • software sending data to a separate party’s system for confirming new users’ identities
  • a government identity-checking system

As an aside, it’s important to note that these technical problems would have been there waiting to bite a poor user after he made his choice and moved actually to buy a policy, albeit somewhat mitigated by the reduced number of actual buyers compared to the larger number of shoppers.

The foolishness of deciding to not bother with this standard, economy-wide shopping sequence has been noticed by folks besides me:

“People should be able to get [insurance] quotes” without going through the technical hurdles upfront, said Jay Angoff, a former director of the federal office overseeing the development of the marketplace, also known as an exchange[.]

When was the last time you went to Walmart to check prices and the door greeter required you to fill out an account application form—and be approved for that account—as a condition of gaining entry to the store?  Or Amazon?

Anyone?  I didn’t think so.

But that’s all fixed as of last Thursday, was it?  Not so much.  Below are a couple of screen shots of my attempt to shop before opening an account yesterday (Sunday, three days after this “fix” was rolled out).

On selecting the shopping path from the opening page of the version of HealthCare.gov set up in Texas, I was met with a few questions designed to characterize my demographic so the Fed’s exchange could know for what sort of policies I was eligible.  So far, so good.  This screen shot is what greeted me on hitting NEXT after answering the demographic questions:

Yep.  No policy options, no attempt to refine my status, just many statements of “You might consider this search, you ought to learn about that,” and so on.  So I tried to consider and to learn: I selected the “How can I get lower costs…” at the bottom of the above screenshot, and the next screenshot is what I got in response:

Yep, again.  No policies with coverage descriptions and premiums charged.  More stuff about what to learn, things to consider.  It’s important to note that this is a long page, with a long list of things I ought to consider or to learn about, all based, ostensibly, on that demographic information I provided at the start of this parade.  Scrolling to the bottom of the page, this is what I got:

In case the link is hard to read, it says [emphasis added], “apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll.”

I still have to apply first, and see coverage options and prices second.  Two weeks into the Obamacare Purchase Program failure.

This is the capability of a Federal government that insists it knows better than we do how to manage our health care and our health insurance.

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