Since October 1, I have logged on to various websites across the Internet to book three flights, make hotel reservations in four cities, buy a pair of boots, some t-shirts and a set of nifty retro Mason jars.
What I haven’t bought: health insurance through healthcare.gov.
Nor have I tried, even after being able to (finally) create an account and see the prices on specific plans offered here in South Jersey, after weeks of frustration.
Here’s why: Given my family’s initial experience in setting up an account and the horror stories that continue to pour out day by day, we simply have no faith that the system will work if we attempt to sign up. And, given the bungling to date, we are not confident our insurance will be there January 1 – even if we are able to Whac-A-Mole our way through the registration process.
Think about it this way: If you really need to get to Miami, would you attempt to buy a plane ticket on a sketchy site that may or may not sell you a ticket that may or may not be waiting for you for a plane that may or may not be there when you get to the airport on the travel day?
Of course not. Nor are we comfortable relying on healthcare.gov, 1-800 numbers, navigators or parchment to sign up for health insurance through the federal exchange at this point.
How did it go? Unavoidably, that will be the big question come Tuesday.
But there will be much more to it than that.
A 180-Day Open Enrollment––Not a One-Day Open Enrollment
What happens on the first day, for good or bad, will constitute only a tiny percentage of the open enrollment period. Consumers will likely visit the new websites many times before they make any decisions, and that is exactly as it should be.
Many of the health plans touted as being low-cost plans are going to be very limited access plans. It won’t be easy for consumers to compare one plan’s provider network to the other. In the best of circumstances, consumers will be confused by what is being offered for some time and will have to make a major effort to make sense of it for themselves.
Let’s not forget, they will be buying something that will cost thousands of dollars––their money or the government’s––and that kind of purchase will never be as simple as going to Amazon and buying a book.
I will suggest that if the local press wants to be helpful they will waste less time asking how things went the first day and more time doing stories on the quality of the various health plans in their local communities––particularly over provider access, which will be the only major product differentiator between health insurance companies.
Will There Be Administrative Problems With the Exchanges?
There already are. And, there will be lots more.
During the last 24-hours I have been told that the information technology testing between insurance companies and the federal government, particularly around the government telling insurance companies who they will be covering, continues to be a real mess.
But whatever obvious problems there are at launch, there will likely be more problems and more serious problems behind the scenes in the lead-up to January 1, the initial problems will be worked out in a few days or a few weeks. Operational expectations are now so low for Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges a small disaster will be considered a political victory.