Obamacare's rocky roll-out

People won't like it long after they forget the 'shutdown'

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The furor over the government "shutdown" has distracted attention from the Obamacare rollout.

After support for the GOP plummeted to all-time lows in two polls last week, Democrats sent a fruit basket to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, its architect. "Thanks to you, Obamacare is more popular and the GOP is less so," said the card. "Keep up the good work!!"

Byron York of the Washington Examiner lamented, "Instead of pounding Obama on the mandates, defects, false promises and expense of Obamacare, Republicans ended up pounding themselves."

The news media focus more now on GOP dissension, but Obamacare's troubles aren't going away. Such media attention as there's been has focused on "glitches" in the websites of Obamacare exchanges.

"Many and perhaps most users can't even get into the federal exchange system. Those who can are often stymied by errors and can't trust that any subsidized insurance prices they see will be accurate. And then, even if they do manage to get all the way through the system, their applications may not transmit properly to the insurers from whom they are trying to purchase insurance. In short, nothing works," summarized Peter Suderman of Reason magazine.

The Chicago Tribune reported that, thanks to Obamacare, nurse practitioner Adam Weldzius, 33, will have to pay twice as much next year for the coverage he has now.

At a rally against Obamacare, Jennifer Most of Allentown -- who is disabled and lives on a fixed income -- told a local TV station that the Obamacare website indicated she would have to pay $947.63 next year for health insurance, $765 more than this year. She said this would force her to choose between health insurance and putting food on the table.

"Of course I want people to have health care," Obama voter Cindy Vinson told the San Jose Mercury News when she learned she'd have to pay $1,800 more next year for health insurance. "I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally."

The cheapest plan will be 99 percent more expensive for men, 62 percent more expensive for women than the cheapest plans are now, according to a Manhattan Institute study (although coverage will be different and subsidies will be available on a sliding income scale).

Obamacare exchange websites crash so much because they were designed backward. Typically when you shop online, you just start browsing products and prices before you buy. But Healthcare.gov makes you give them lots of personal information before it lets you see what your choices are and how much each costs. It takes time to fill out the forms, so Obamacare websites crash under a volume of traffic many blogs handle with ease.

The administration did this deliberately so you wouldn't get sticker shock right away, asserts Avik Roy, a health care expert with the Manhattan Institute.

People must sign up by Dec. 15 to be covered Jan. 1 and by Feb. 15 to avoid paying a fine for not having health insurance. If the system isn't "running at full speed" by Nov. 15, Obamacare implementation should be delayed a year, said Megan McArdle, an economics writer for Bloomberg News.

It will take months to fix the software and architecture problems, most experts think. There is no fix for sticker shock.

For Obamacare to be financially viable, 7 million people -- at least 2.7 million of them healthy young adults -- must sign up, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. But only 51,000 signed up the first week, the London Daily Mail estimates. At that rate, signing up 7 million would take more than two and a half years.

President Obama will have to delay the individual mandate, because "people can't be fined for not having something that they can't purchase," predicts Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who blogs for Forbes.

"Without the individual mandate, Obamacare unravels," notes Mark Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute. "The only way the law works is if the government forces young, healthy people into it by threatening them with penalties for not carrying health insurance."

So, now that the "shutdown" is over, Americans likely will remember more fondly how hard Republicans fought Obamacare. And long after they've forgotten the terms on which the shutdown ended, Americans will remember that to score partisan political points during it, the president inflicted pain upon them.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476). First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM


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