It's a Halloween-worthy nightmare. Undeniably, the Internet roll-out of the Affordable Care Act has been a disaster that reflects poorly on the Obama administration as well as the four Web companies that designed a so-far unworkable site that threatens to undermine if not scuttle the president's health insurance achievement.
It's an all-too-familiar tale of incompetence and hubris that recalls the mess here in Massachusetts as well as California and several other states when the Deloitte financial-services firm unveiled new Web systems to process unemployment claims. The upshot: For several months, thousands of Bay State residents had to cope with lengthy delays in payments and denials of benefits.
On a smaller scale, some major universities have delayed their enrollment deadlines into mid-November because of mega-glitches in a new version of the Web-based Common Application that serves students seeking admission to 517 colleges.
With a harsh spotlight on the flawed introduction of "Obamacare," administration officials and four government web contractors were roasted on a spit Thursday during the first of several House committee hearings held by all-too-gleeful Republicans eagerly hoping to put the final nails in the coffin of the president's signature domestic achievement.
It's downright hilarious to see the crocodile tears shed by Republicans who now profess such great concern over the health care plan that they have been trying so mightily to sabotage for years.
Certainly, it's necessary to uncover the reasons for the health exchange website's crash-and-burn -- was the design flawed from the get-go or did last-minute revisions ordered by the Obama administration cause the system to unravel? Who knew what when? Was President Obama out of the loop on the impending flameout? But the opponents of the health care law are dedicated to undermine the heart of the health care law by capitalizing on the Internet meltdown.
For example, U.S. Rep. Mike Burgess, a Texas Republican and a physician, cited administration promises made to him that the Affordable Care site would be ready for roll-out on Oct. 1. Referring to officials' optimistic predictions, Burgess asked rhetorically, "Were you purposely untruthful with me or did you really believe this all was going to work and you had no earthly idea this system you devised was so flawed?"
In an NPR interview, he acknowledged that Republicans might have reveled in a White House acknowledgment that the system was not ready for prime time, or any time. But Burgess contends the administration's assurances that all would be well only exacerbated the problem -- "when you've got a problem, confess your sins, go for absolution and get on with it."
In a sage response, U. S. Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat, argues that Republicans aren't interested in fixing the Affordable Care Act.
"Every time they held a hearing," he contended, "it has not been to be constructive, it's only to say how terrible this law is."
In a comment dripping with sarcasm and irony, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a downstate New York Democrat, told NPR: "I think it's wonderful that my Republican colleagues care so much about the Affordable Care Act that they want to make sure it works perfectly. After shutting down the government, trying to kill it, trying to defund it and voting against it, I'm glad that they're just so concerned about it right now."
Objectively speaking, it's obvious that the administration faces an urgent salvage operation in order to restore its own badly jeopardized credibility as well as to preserve the Affordable Care Act. If the health-exchange website is not fully functional within a matter of weeks, the law could crumple like a house of cards, especially if the now-uninsured, healthy 20- and 30-somethings whose enrollment is crucial to the system's success lose patience and interest.
There are other disturbing issues -- "sticker shock" is being experienced by some who have managed to enroll. That's especially true in 58 percent of rural-area counties in the 34 states served by the federal exchanges, where only two insurers are participating, thus limiting competitive pricing and keeping premiums high, even unaffordable in a semi-monopoly.
The law needs a thorough reboot since its success is as crucial to the nation's health system as Medicare and Medicaid were when they were introduced in the 1960s amid much partisan wrangling. Thus, the six-week individual-mandate enrollment deadline extension from Feb. 15 to March 31 announced by the administration on Wednesday evening may not be enough.
Unless a near-miraculous rescue of the system can be achieved by Thanksgiving, the tax penalties for those who fail or are unable to enroll may have to be delayed until 2015.
Here in Massachusetts, residents are fortunate that the state-run Health Connector for people not covered by workplace insurance seems to be operating much more smoothly.
But no state is an island, and if the national plan falters badly, there's bound to be a Bay State impact. All but the most mean-spirited partisans should be rooting for a quick and effective fix.
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