A THCB reader writes in with a question and a pretty disruptive suggestion. @NorCal Exchange writes:
“I’m a small business owner. I’m also a card-carrying Democrat. Frankly, I’m pretty pissed off about the way things have gone with this roll-out so far. This was our one chance to get health reform right. And from what I can tell, we’ve totally screwed it up. Here’s one more thing a lot of the media coverage is missing. Even though THCB readers understand how open enrollment works, I’m guessing a lot of ordinary Americans don’t realize that under the new rules once they’ve applied for coverage they’re basically stuck with what they’ve got until the next enrollment period. This was a pretty big change in the first place. With all of this insanity, I’m guessing people are probably not reading the fine print and don’t know they’re locked in.
My prediction: there are going to be a lot of really unhappy people in the early part of 2014, when people realize what they’ve gotten themselves into. Why not allow people to change their plans? If you want an Amazon.com for healthcare, make the market for health insurance the same way as the market for anything else. If people decide to upgrade their coverage let them. If they get pissed at UnitedHealth’s customer service, let them cancel their policy and switch to AETNA or CIGNA. If I’m an idiot and don’t want preventative coverage let me build my own plan. If I’m worried that my daughter might get cancer let me add the Mayo clinic to my network. If my kid plays sports, let me add better ortho coverage. Yeah. Yeah. I know. This will turn the traditional underwriting model upside down. And a couple of health plans may even go out of business. But so what? My business may end up going out of business. These guys are smart. They’ll figure out twenty new ways to make money and they’ll end up thanking us for disrupting their precious monopoly …”
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.