Thoughts on the First 30 Days Post Health Insurance Marketplace Website Launch

by Patrick Riley 08 Nov 2013
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Anticipation and government hubris has given way to apology and refusal to share enrollment data. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spent the balance of the summer criss crossing America and testifying on Capitol Hill on the status of the government Website,'s development progress. She insisted, under oath that, "we will be ready on October 1st." President Obama echoed this charge as did CMS Administrator, Marilyn Tavenner.

Oh what a few weeks will do to a person's and a nation's position on a public program. When October 1st dawned, millions of Americans logged on, literally. New York State experienced 5 million "hits" in the first hour and a half. California reported 16,000 hits a second in the early hours. But, as the hours ticked towards mid-day, excitement and jubulation gave way to a stark reality in Washington. The 36 states that the feds were to build and manage, the online insurance exchange was not working. Not at all.

Initially, Sebelius and the White House spokersperson Jay Carney, gathered their wagons and replied with a simple acknowledgement of "glitches" in the system. But, they went on to explain, that these encounters were minor and every Website launched had similar such "glitches." The President compared the inital failure to Apple, who reported "glitches" when they launched their iPhone. Well, there you have it. If Steve Jobs can handle a glitch or two. The American people should too.

But, as hours passed into days, the grim reality of the magnitude of error was beginning to be recongnized. Citizens reported having to wait 6 to 8 hours to just try and create an account so they could appply online for health insurance only to receive 404 error re-direct messages. Frustration began to build. Sebelius went on the Jon Stewart Daily Show hoping to connect with the DNA of America and was annihilated by Stewart who quipped, "Madam Secretary, you try to log in online to buy health insurance and I will download every piece of music ever recorded. Let's see who gets done first!" And when Sebelius attempted to successfully log on with millions of Americans watching, the site crashed, and she received an error message. Saturday Night Live and night show monologues by Letterman, Kimmel, and Leno pounced.

To make matters worse, HHS has refused, to date, not to release any statistics or reports that indicate how many Americans have actually enrolled since October 1 for the 36 states where they are in charge of the online applications. So, as we brace ourselves for failure on a scale never before seen by the federal government, we laughingly scoff at what a poor job our government has done. But, the impact of this fiasco is eroding public confidence in the Affordable Care Act well beyond Website code and analytics. This debacle has, and will continue to have, a profound inpmaact on American health policy and the political  landscape in 2014 and 2016.

Last week, Sebelius appointed Jeffrey Zienst, the on deck economic advisor to the White House to gather the best and the brightest "geeks" in Washington and not let them out of a smoke filled room until all was well in Website land. Mr. Zienst has promised nationwide enlightenment by November 30th. We shall see.

You can follow me on Twitter @Patrick_FrostHC.

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