Food critics warn about trying out a new restaurant the first day it opens, before the kinks are worked out. Theater- and movie-goers often wait for reviews to get the lay of the land before venturing forth. But judging by the response of the media and consumers, a new health care system that has life-and-death consequences is something one just leaps into, passing immediate judgment on its quality and efficacy.
Health care exchanges across the country opened Tuesday and none were busier than in California, where the state’s aggressive planning couldn’t prevent its system from being overwhelmed by inquiries. Computers crashed, links didn’t work, wait periods were long and tempers were short.
In other words, it was a typical rollout of a complicated technological system, which, in this case, was not unexpected. The worst case is that people will have to call back at a more opportune time, but time is one thing they have. The deadline for sign-up is January 1, with a three-month grace period after that. If a consumer wants their insurance to kick in on New Year’s Day, they need to sign up a couple weeks ahead of that.
In the meantime, they can study the Covered California website, consider other sources of information, weigh their options and then make a prudent decision. Or, they can demagogue the Affordable Care Act and claim the rollout is proof that it is an unworkable system.
At Redstate.com, where they believe the government should be shut down until Obamacare is defunded, a headline screamed on Day Two, “Annnd that is the sound of the California #Obamacare exchange going down in flames.” At The American Spectator, a headline on Day One touted a story about how sites needed another year to get ready, “Let the Death Spiral Begin.” CalWatchdog.comchided California politicians for supporting the boondoggle in a story, “CA Dems still say Obamacare is wonderful, not an unfolding fiasco.”
Initial claims that the Covered California website was experiencing problems because of an avalanche of 5 million online inquiries proved to be false. The real number was about 13% of that, according to the Los Angeles Times, prompting critics to claim it was either part of a misinformation campaign, another example of incompetence or both.
As a result of computer problems, people were able to peruse the website to varying degrees, but actual enrollment was problematic. That prompted a chorus of complaints, which went viral on right-wing websites, that not a single person out of the 2 million+ expected to sign up had enrolled in Covered California on Day One. That’s a tad misleading. Thousands had progressed far enough to submit an application; they just hadn’t heard back that it had been accepted. And no one predicted heavy enrollment the first day.
The problems experienced in California, which has its own state-developed system, are similar to those experienced in the 34 states that chose to rely on the federal government’s healthcare.gov site. Far more people are clicking around the site—setting up accounts and becoming informed about one of the bigger decisions they will make this year—than enrolling.
ThinkProgress said on Thursday that it was unclear how many people were actually finishing the process and getting enrolled nationally, and offered anecdotal evidence of individual success. It will be awhile before the states have decent numbers, but the publication said Kentucky reported 3,000 individuals and families in that state had enrolled.
Many Californians will want to wait at least until Monday anyway, because that’s when the search function for doctors and hospitals will be available onsite, according to the website. They also may want to hear about what common mistakes other enrollees have made, or tips and tricks about how to reach a good decision.
At the very least, they might want to wait before the movie is over—until the entrée is served—before sneaking out to the parking lot to tweet their experience. They might miss the best part.