Stakes are high as Obamacare website hits deadline
This weekend, HealthCare.gov faces its own virtual cliff, as the Obama administration hits a self-imposed deadline to fix most major problems with the troubled website. But will it be enough?
By Monday, the website’s status should be the subject of much debate in Washington circles, as more Democrats are growing weary of its struggles and may push for more delays in implementing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare—if the website has another public meltdown.
As of Thanksgiving week, officials said many major problems had been fixed with the website and it could now handle at least 50,000 simultaneous users. That could be good news, or bad news, depending on how many consumers decide to give HealthCare.gov a second chance.
But in a holiday surprise, the administration said on Wednesdays that small businesses couldn’t use the online exchange for another year, as it tried to manage traffic on HealthCare.gov.
When the website opened for business in October, more than 4 million people flocked to it, to see how their insurance coverage would change.
Information later released by the Obama administration revealed that the site could only accommodate 2,000 simultaneous users, without going into meltdown mode.
President Obama brought in a high-ranking official, Jeffrey D. Zients, to oversee the HealthCare.gov recovery effort. But he is departing in January to become the National Economic Council’s director.
That leaves the current health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, in the political hot seat.
Earlier this week, Sebelius said that people returning to HealthCare.gov should have a much-better experience.
“We are definitely on track to have a significantly different user experience by the end of this month,” Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Tuesday. “That was our commitment.”
But the New York Times reported on Wednesday that insiders at the website were worried the initial online crowds could number around 250,000, which could swamp the website again and put it beyond its capacity. The administration also said that in some cases, about 20 percent of people coming to HealthCare.gov may need to return later when the site isn’t at full capacity.
Those delays could be crucial. People who want insurance for start of the New Year need to sign up for it by December 23. There is another enrollment period for insurance that ends in March, for insurance that takes effect later.
If the website has continued problems, and some consumers discover they can’t buy insurance by December 23, then the calls for a delay to the individual mandate will only grow louder.
The individual mandate requites people, in most cases, to pay a fine on their taxes if they don’t buy health insurance.
Back in October, Democrats were among those calling for an individual mandate delay because of the troubled website.
According to an article on The Atlantic’s website, there have been eight significant delays to Obamacare in recent months.
The scenario could also exist where a consumer, who received a cancellation notice from their current insurer, may have problems getting new coverage by that December 23 deadline.
Lawsuits from any significant problems enrolling on HealthCare.gov would have to get in line with numerous other legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act.
How Congress deals with the issue could have the most-immediate impact. The debate about an individual mandate could run into debates in January about funding the federal government and raising the debt ceiling, the two issues that caused October’s stalemate in Washington.
As you may recall, Republicans asked for a one-year delay in the individual mandate as a concession to avoid the October shutdown.
Scott Bomboy is editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.
Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the U.S. Constitution. Constitution Daily, the Center’s blog, offers smart commentary and conversation about constitutional issues in the news, drawing insights from America’s history and a variety of expert contributors.