The troubled Healthcare.gov should be up and running by November 30th, the White House has assured the public multiple times. But the efforts to get things running smoothly, including a so-called "tech surge" to fix the system's many glitches, might not be on track to meet that goal. That's according to a report in the Washington Post on Tuesday night. The report, citing a single unnamed official familiar with the effort, explains that government and tech employees working on the big fix now believe the "only way for large numbers of Americans to enroll in the health-care plans soon is by using other means."
We know that the healthcare exchange site's problems — originally referred to as "glitches" — include security holes, capacity problems, and a handful of problems pertaining to the transmission of enrollment information to the insurance companies. Despite those problems, about 50,000 people somehow managed to sign up for plans since the site launched at the beginning of October. It clearly means things have improved since the site's first terrible day. But the enrollment figure is way below White House estimates of 500,000 by the end of October. Eligible Americans are supposed to sign up on the exchanges by December 15th to get coverage starting at the beginning of the year, so there's not much room here if the government misses the November 30th fix date. For some, the stakes are especially high. Sick Americans with pre-existing conditions need to enroll in new insurance by January 1st, as the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan expires at the end of the year.
So what about the suggestion that Americans sign up for plans via an alternate means, like the phone? Well, the healthcare exchange call centers aren't doing that well, either. The Post explains:
Call centers have had problems, too. Within the network of 17 federally sponsored call locations staffed by more than 10,000 people, consumers are discovering that telephone representatives lack the authority to correct errors in online applications. And sometimes, consumers with more than routine questions are promised that specialists will call them back, but the calls never come.
Given the Post's sourcing, Tuesday's story should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, insurance companies have also started to get nervous about the fast-approaching deadline at the end of the month. Some companies have asked the Obama administration to find a way to let them enroll Americans eligible for subsidies directly through their own websites, a plan the White House shot down because it would require giving the companies access to customers' tax information. However, officials are reportedly open to considering other ideas that would allow insurance companies to take on some enrollments directly.