WASHINGTON — The glitch-ridden rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law has opponents crowing: “Told you so!” and insisting it should be paused, if not scrapped. But others, including insurance companies, say there’s still enough time to fix the online enrollment system before uninsured Americans start getting coverage on Jan. 1.
After emergency repairs over the weekend, consumers in different parts of the country Monday continued to report delays on healthcare.gov, as well as problems setting up security questions for their accounts.
The administration says the site’s crowded electronic “waiting room” is thinning out. Still, officials announced it was down again for a few hours starting at 1 a.m. Tuesday for more upgrades and fixes.
Despite the confusion, the insurance industry has held off public criticism. Alarmed that only a trickle of customers got through initially, insurers now say enrollments are starting to come in and they expect things to improve.
The last major federal health care launch — the Medicare prescription program in 2006 — also had big startup problems. Government leaders who oversaw it say things could look very different in a couple of months for Obama’s law if the administration manages to get a grip on the situation.
“There wasn’t enough time for testing, so the dress rehearsal became opening night,” said Michael Leavitt, who as President George W. Bush’s top health official, was responsible for the Medicare drug plan debut. "The moment of truth is going to come in the middle of November, when people want to see the real deal,” said Leavitt, who currently heads a consulting firm that advises states on the health overhaul. “If they don’t have this running smoothly by then, it’s going to be a bigger problem than we’re seeing today.”
The insurance industry is calling for patience. “This is a marathon and not a sprint,” Karen Ignagni, head of the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement. “We anticipate enrollments will continue to increase in the days and weeks ahead.”
Obama’s law — also known as the Affordable Care Act — was designed to provide insurance for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job.
Middle-class uninsured people can buy a government-subsidized private plan, while the poor and near-poor will be steered to Medicaid in states that agree to expand the safety net program. The online insurance markets were envisioned as the 21st century portal to an overhauled system.