Failure to Launch

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The launch of the nation’s Obamacare exchanges continues to be a nationwide disaster – and Obamacare advocates continue to grit their teeth and insist that all is well.
On the one hand, this disturbingly propagandistic video attempts to show that the Arkansas exchange worked well on its first day: one “satisfied customer” stands just outside the Clinton Library’s exchange rollout, explaining that the startup went “very easily, very smoothly, it went right to the point, you know; she keyed in a few things and we went online and looked at all the different plans – I’m really impressed.”  Another explains that the staff members there “walked us through signing up online.”
On the other hand, John Lyon’s excellent story suggests that the video’s storyline (as well as the Arkansas Times’s headline, Obamacare: Meet Some Satisfied Customers) is indefensible. According to Lyon, no one was actually able to enroll on the first day; the only step that applicants were able to take was to receive paper applications. It’s starting to look like this exchange rollout is just one example of a nationwide parade of foulups.
Late last week, I called up Heather Haywood, a spokesman for the state Insurance Department, to ask if she had any information about whether anyone in Arkansas has been able to use the exchange website. She told me that state government had no information on that question, but suggested she might have applicant numbers for me in a couple of days.
I called her again yesterday for an update: Has anyone in Arkansas been able to successfully apply? Once again, she had no information on enrollee numbers. However, she did say that “it has been suggested that we might possibly see monthly reports on enrollees.” In other words: don’t expect to hear anything for a couple of days; instead, those who want data on the success of the exchanges should think in terms of a couple of weeks.
A news story in today’s Democrat-Gazette provides a little infornation, however: according to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield spokesman, the number of people who enrolled with them through the Arkansas exchange is in the high teens. QualChoice wouldn’t say how many people had enrolled with them, and Centene Insurance didn’t return the ADG’s calls.
This paucity of information reminded me of Stephen King’s point that it isn’t really the monster walking into the room that is terrifying; what’s terrifying is when you don’t know what’s on the other side of the door. Haywood attempted to assuage my fears by saying “Certainly, we don’t think that consumers would enroll immediately. It’s an important decision.” She added that “they pulled the website down briefly to make repairs, but people are enrolling and the process is going faster.” I have some compassion for Haywood, who has clearly been instructed to put a brave face on a very difficult situation.
(AAI warned lawmakers last year that implementation would be difficult – indeed, one might expect that creating a nationwide set of databases that cross-checks everyone’s citizenship, state residency, household income, Obamacare eligibility, residential information, Medicaid eligibility, pregnancy status, disability history, insurance plan, and employment coverage would pose more than a few administrative challenges. Unfortunately, Arkansas lawmakers responded to these challenges by increasing the burden Arkansas faced by creating a second exchange for “private option” customers.)

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