President Obama was right Monday when he said “we did not wage this long and contentious battle [over the Affordable Care Act] just around a website. That's not what this was about.”
No, it was not. But the credibility of his administration does in fact now rest in part on whether the federally designed site used in 36 states to search and sign up for health insurance can be fixed in reasonably short order. As it is, that site simply isn't up to the task.
It's not as if its architects should have felt rushed. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010 and administration officials have been touting the virtues of the Web portal for months, claiming consumers would be able to shop with ease and then enroll.
Indeed, the president compared the site to Amazon.com in terms of simple navigation as recently as Oct. 1, the date of its debut.
And there's a more substantive reason for concern than political embarrassment. The deadline to sign up for coverage to begin Jan. 1 is Dec. 15, and the initial enrollment period winds down March 31, after which some who go uninsured could be subject to fines.
“The biggest problem now is that the glitches and other technical problems will discourage all but the most eager applicants from signing up for insurance in the exchanges — meaning that older people with pre-existing medical problems will persist in applying while younger or healthier people will throw up their hands and give up,” an expert with the American Enterprise Institute told The Fiscal Times.
And while the administration says it is bringing in “the best and brightest” to fix the problems, the issues appear serious. The New York Times reported last weekend that “numerous people involved in the project said the [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] did not have the expertise to do the job and did not fully understand what it entailed.”
Here in Colorado, the Connect for Health Colorado website appears to have had a smoother debut. Spokesman Ben Davis told us Monday that “our state's effort has been very successful.” Still, we'd postpone any verdict until end-of-month data are released, since the only figures unveiled so far cover just the first week, when a seemingly paltry 226 people enrolled.
The president insists “nobody is madder than me” about the shortcomings of the insurance website. That's great, but this isn't a test of emotion. It's a test of competence.