Published November 01, 2013
As ObamaCare closes its fifth week of open enrollment, new information has leaked on those elusive numbers. FOX News reports that on day one of the ACA exchange rollout, only six people signed up, according to documents released by the House Oversight Committee.
This headline is just one of many on the hotly-contested law, which also prompted testimony from major ObamaCare players this week, including Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
But while both incidents shed some light on the law and its troubled rollout, Manhattan Institute scholar Yevgeniy Feyman says the testimony this week really served as more of a distraction than anything else, and there are still many unanswered questions one full month into this important enrollment period.
“These hearings are really a pony show,” Feyman says. “Yes, they were great for sound bites, and we did get a few nuggets of information.”
Brookings Institution resident scholar Larry Kocot agreed, and said the testimony has really bought the administration time in some ways, but also turned up the pressure to get the exchanges performing at full capacity.
“People are looking to explore how deep the management and political problems are within both the department and the exchange,” Kocot says. “It’s about how decisions are being made, and who is making them.”
Healthcare.gov was once again shut down for hours during week five for maintenance, and was flashed as “down” during Sebelius’ testimony Wednesday. November 30 is now D-day for the site’s many problems to be fixed, although Kocot says it’s unclear if that is actually a feasible goal.
“They brought in QSSI [the original site creator] which is curious,” he says. “The rationale may be that they have been involved in these meetings, and presumably have a handle on the issues and problems, but the downside is that they have been a part of the problem at certain points.”
Anecdotally, state Websites continue to outperform the federal government’s website, Feyman says. Many are not using the same software as Healthcare.gov, which seems to be a positive thing for performance.
“California, for example, subcontracted with a startup that did some really innovative stuff for Covered California,” he says. “These state exchanges are tailored to each state, and designed to handle smaller populations. The federal exchange is a complete mess, and I am not sure the November 30 deadline is realistic.”
Kocot added the poor performance from the federal exchange isn’t doing the law any favors.
“It’s not helping perception. It’s like someone keeps tripping over the power cord and unplugging it,” he says.
Mid-November is when HHS and the Obama Administration will reportedly release enrollment numbers, but Kocot says given the reports today that the first several days saw enrollment and completed applications in the tens and hundreds, enrollment is clearly not where it needs to be. These are not official reports, he says, so the figures may not be accurate.
“The website issues may be masking deeper problems than just the enrollment issues within the system,” he says. “They should be getting better numbers than they are. It is almost inexplicable.”
Feyman says the enrollment reports have been low, and the administration is waiting and likely hoping to see a surge before official stats are released.
“Low numbers aren’t surprising, because the site isn’t working that well at all,” he says. “But traffic numbers, and the amount of people who visit or create applications doesn’t reflect enrollment. It’s a useless metric.”