CA drops the hypodermic on Obamacare implementation

CA drops the hypodermic on Obamacare implementation

On Tuesday, the health care exchanges opened for businesses, and the Obamacare implementation began in earnest. As expected, the rollout was rocky. There were several problems: virtually every online marketplace experienced glitches, errors or crashes. Many users complained that the websites were difficult to use. Others complained about long wait times to speak with people on the phone. Scores of people just gave up.

Covered California front page, Oct. 3, 2013The next day, at the White House press briefing, Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney told a room of reporters that traffic to statewide exchange sites and healthcare.gov “exceeded” what they had anticipated and that it was a “good problem to have.” Carney added:

“I think what we are confident of is that the high volume we've seen around the country, the 4.7 million unique visitors in the first 24 hours to healthcare.gov, reflects the extreme interest in the opening of the marketplaces and the opening of the opportunity for individuals to shop for and select affordable health insurance for the first time.”

That’s the spin. From MSNBC to the White House, the message is forming that the only reason online marketplaces experienced so many glitches was because they were so popular. This may be true; growing websites often experience major glitches when they get waves of traffic. It happened to eBay, Twitter, Google, Facebook and just about every other major website.

California lies

But here in California, it might not be fair to blame traffic on the cause of glitches. First, though, some perspective: California has been hailed as a leader in Obamacare implementation. Given that the state has deep blue majorities in both chambers of Legislature and is controlled by a Democratic governor, California has long been seen as a leader. Democrats in the state have done everything they can to cooperate with the federal government to set up their exchange. Gov. Jerry Brown, just this week, signed more legislation to help with implementation.

This has been a mixed bag for California, as the state has also become a poster child for sloppy implementation. But the state also  posted impressive numbers for its website. On Tuesday, state officials reported that the Covered California website had received around 5 million hits — more than the national website. The number was jaw-dropping; it was also wrong.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

“State officials said the Covered California website got 645,000 hits during the first day of enrollment, far fewer than the 5 million it reported Tuesday.

“The state exchange had cited the 5 million figure as a sign of strong consumer interest and a major reason people had so much difficulty using its $313-million online enrollment system.”

A spokesman for Covered California explained the error, claiming, “Someone misspoke and thought it was indeed 5 million hits. That was incorrect.”

Indeed.

The Times story continues:

“Meantime, Californians were still running into computer problems and long hold times during the second day of enrollment under the federal healthcare law.

“Those glitches have prompted Covered California to shut down its online enrollment system twice. …

“People calling for information continued to face wait times of 30 minutes or more. Some call-center representatives at the exchange told people they were having trouble accessing the state system themselves, further slowing down the enrollment process.”

The federal government has said it doesn’t know how many people have actually signed up for coverage. The state of Maryland, though, had less than 100 in the first day. It’s unclear how far along California is in registering its goal of 2 million people, though one estimate said that only a few thousand people had applications pending.

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