Amidst talks at the end of September about a government shutdown, the Obama Administration promised that the Affordable Care Act exchange websites would launch, as scheduled, on October 1st. The exchanges are the law's online marketplaces intended to enable consumers to sign up for the health insurance offered and regulated under the law.
In June of this year, critics of ObamaCare voiced their concerns that the exchange websites would not be ready by the October 1st deadline. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius dismissed those concerns, saying:
We have the next couple of months laid out with a very busy and engaged schedule to make sure that we're ready for the marketplace launch on Oct. 1, with open enrollment... It's a huge undertaking across the country, and I'm confident we're on track to get it done.
Despite Secretary Sebelius' confidence, the much-anticipated website's launch was nothing short of a disaster. Within hours of its launch, the site was unavailable in many states, with error messages asking people to check back in a few hours. Site visitors across the country complained they were unable to create accounts, set up passwords, or fill out the necessary web-forms. During an on-air demonstration in early October, MSNBC reporters attempted to sign up for ObamaCare, but gave up when it became clear the website was not functioning.
According to Millward Brown Digital, out of 3.72 million people who attempted to register in the first week, only 36,000 people were able to successfully complete enrollment.
The cost of the exchange website was originally expected to be $94 million, but in true big-government fashion, has ballooned to $292 million. Perhaps more shocking, it was revealed in mid-October that the websites were built using 10-year old technology. So, thanks to the expert planning of the Department of Health and Human Services, taxpayers have to pay nearly $300 million for glitch-prone, outdated technology.
Technical glitches aside, the real ObamaCare meltdown is with the law itself.
Even before full implementation, the law, like the website, is already crashing and burning. The law has failed to live up to any of the promises that Democrats made in 2009 and 2010.
One of the most glaring broken promises is that ObamaCare was a "jobs bill." Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously said in 2010 the health care bill would create 4 million jobs. Not only have those 4 million jobs failed to materialize, but now millions of Americans are witnessing the destruction of their 40-hour workweek or seeing their jobs disappear altogether. The law imposes higher fines for employers with 50 or more full-time employees, thus incentivizing businesses to scale back their hiring or move operations overseas.
When recently pressed about the destruction of the 40-hour workweek, Nancy Pelosi responded that the end of the 40-hour workweek is "a liberation" for the American people because they are now free to pursue their passions. Her "let them eat cake" elitism displays the profound disconnect between Washington, DC and the real world where Americans are struggling under ObamaCare.
Democrats also promised that ObamaCare would provide "universal" health insurance. In reality, even when fully implemented, the Congressional Budget Office expects approximately 30 million people will remain uninsured. That's a far cry from universal coverage.
Then there are the more serious broken promises, such as the ubiquitous promise that people would not lose their insurance. President Obama and Senate Democrats repeatedly made that claim when the bill was being debated in 2009. Just as many ObamaCare critics predicted three years ago, millions of Americans are now losing their insurance, either because their companies are dropping the plans and opting for the government-run exchanges, or because the plans are not "ObamaCare compliant" and the insurance companies are discontinuing them.
President Obama also promised early on that his signature health care law would reduce families' health insurance premiums by up to $2,500 per year. Many individuals who have managed to complete the exchange application have been shocked to learn that their premiums in the exchange would go up, in some cases as much as 300%. Those who are most affected, of course, are the younger, healthier people who will be forced to pay higher premiums to cover the costs of the chronically ill and older people.
It is no exaggeration to say that the exchanges are critical to the law's success. Without the exchanges, ObamaCare collapses.
The federal government, which was unable to build a functioning website – with three years and 300 million dollars – is the same government Americans are supposed to believe will be able to manage all aspects of their health care, from the insurance marketplace to setting prices for medical services.
Unlike the exchange website portals, which can be tweaked and improved, ObamaCare itself is an unmitigated disaster. The law is already wreaking havoc on America's economy, increasing health insurance prices, cancelling existing health insurance plans, and eroding Americans' job security.
Missed deadlines, blown budgets, and a failure to deliver. That describes more than the exchange websites; it is also true of the entire health care law's implementation. While the IT experts in DC scramble to get rid of the website's many bugs, serious reformers should recommit themselves to repealing this law before it does irreparable damage to the economy and health care industry.
Shonda Werry is a policy analyst and researcher in Washington, DC. She is a contributing editor to A Line of Sight.