Open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act opened nationwide on Tuesday. The rollout of the online health insurance marketplace, where individuals can shop for private health coverage, has gone entirely predictably. There have been few, if any, surprises.
It has been no surprise that the level of interest is high, uninsured and underinsured Americans, by the tens of thousands, seeking information and options for health coverage. By Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was reporting 7 million log-ins already to healthcare.gov, the federal website where consumers can apply for and enroll in health plans in Ohio and 35 other states where the federal government is running the marketplace. In a nation where an estimated 48 million residents lack health insurance, the surprise would have been if interest had been low and the online traffic negligible.
Widespread technical problems continue to plague the rollout in both the federal or state-run systems. The problems have been widespread. Whether the result of heavy traffic or technical limitations, glitches in processing networks have led to crashes and lengthy delays and frustration. No surprise there, either. None of this was unexpected. Glitches are common enough, even for an office network upgrade or the launch of a new operating system, say, a Windows or Apple update.
In that light, operators anticipated a degree of bumpiness in powering up a massive system with enough capacity to access data from multiple agencies, compute health-plan options and verify citizenship status and subsidy eligibility for millions of individuals over a short time span. The six-month enrollment period ends March 31, though consumers need to be enrolled by Dec. 15 to be among the first covered when the individual mandate kicks in Jan. 1. The promise is that the bugs in the system would be cleared long before then.
Ohio’s Republican leaders, unfortunately, have not made a challenging process any easier by refusing financial and other assistance to inform 2 million or so Ohioans who might gain coverage through the program. Further, lawmakers erected additional barriers in the form of licensing and certification requirements, which have restricted the number of potential “navigators” (including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) that could perform critical outreach services.
Also, the continued resistance to expand Medicaid means the poorest of poor Ohioans will receinve no coverage from the state, though the federal government will pick up at least 90 percent of the cost. Neither are they eligible for federal subsidies to shop in the marketplace. That is inexcusable.