Are Obamacare Exchanges Failing?

There’s no doubt that the Obamacare exchange websites have had a terrible initial roll-out, but this is different from describing the Obamacare exchanges as a failure, at least based on this portion of an AP story that just came out today:

18,351 people had enrolled [in Kentucky] by Wednesday. Despite relentless criticism from Kentucky Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has been an enthusiastic adopter of the Affordable Care Act. He believes providing medical coverage can only benefit a state that ranks among the worst in nearly every health measure.

“These people are our friends and neighbors,” Beshear said. “They roll the dice and pray they don’t get sick.” […]

A few other state-run exchanges have reported early activity, with the leader being New York, where 40,000 applicants processed by Wednesday. In California, the nation’s most populous state, 16,300 applications had been completed by Tuesday — but that was less than in Kentucky, a state with one-tenth the number of uninsured people than California.

But industry insiders say the enrollment system is starting to work more smoothly.

“Going into this, (insurers) were expecting to see some challenges,” said Karen Ignagni, head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, according to the insurance industry’s primary lobbying group. “What people are pleased about is they are seeing progress. … They would be more worried right now if they were not seeing progress.”

Progress is not failure. And with bad initial press and expectations low, Obamacare may be poised by next year to take-off in popularity if website issues are addressed and the number of enrollees steadily climbs. But these are big “ifs.”

And here’s something to be hopeful about (if you support Obamacare): California has 15% of the nation’s uninsured and is a liberal state, meaning that the fate of Obamacare is not really in the hands of those who tend to hate Obama (such as those in Southern states), but those who tend to like him and want Obamacare to succeed. And so it is gratifying to read this in The New York Times today:

The state and federal efforts here [in California] are yielding results. More than 16,000 applications were completed in the first five days, state officials said, covering more than 29,000 people. An additional 27,000 people have begun filling out applications, numbers that “blew the socks off” initial expectations, said Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California. While the state initially resisted releasing preliminary numbers, Mr. Lee said officials now planned to provide weekly enrollment updates in an effort to counter the “continued drumbeat of doubters and misinformation.”

It will be incredibly hard to derail Obamacare and say it’s not working if it is, indeed, working in big liberal states like New York and California. And it looks like it is starting to. Again, according to the NYT, California has “plans to train and certify 20,000 enrollment counselors and 12,000 insurance agents who will be able to explain options to consumers and help them enroll,” and concludes its article on California’s progress this way:

“There’s a big cheerleading effort, this is an amazing thing that’s happening, truly historical and truly a change of how we perceive health care,” said Deb Farmer, the president and chief executive of Westside Family Health Center, a community clinic in Santa Monica. “Perhaps things didn’t happen as quickly as they may have because there was so much uncertainty and this is a massive undertaking. The expectations for Oct. 1 were a little unrealistic, to say the least.”

Staff members were unable to attend three-day training programs run by the state for enrollment counselors until mid-September, Ms. Farmer said, making it impossible to actually enroll people last week. As of Monday, just one staff member had received certification from the state. Ms. Farmer said the clinic, like many other local groups, expected to increase its efforts in November. “We’re going to spend this time making sure we understand whatever quirks there are in the system so that once we get going, we know exactly what to do,” she said.

Many of the outreach efforts began months ago. San Diego Alliance for Youth has set up a regular table at several college campuses, aiming to reach young people whom officials see as a vital target. Outreach workers have learned by now not to engage with hecklers who are eager to debate the merits of Obamacare, a term many advocates refrain from using.

“We want to stay away from anything that’s politically partisan; this is a program meant for the general public,” said Sandra Simmer, who is coordinating the outreach work in San Diego. “We get a lot of ‘What does it mean for me?’ kinds of questions that really require a conversation. There’s nothing that can replace the importance of that.”

If California manages to enroll 50,000 people a month for, say, five months in a row, and the rest of the country combined enrolls another 150,000 people a month, that’s a million Americans with insurance five months from now who didn’t have it. That’s not bad and not something it will be politically easy for Republicans to say they want to undo. The NYT quotes Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, as saying the following at a Sacramento news conference on Tuesday: “You can’t derail something when it has already left the station. We are going very strong.”

Keep California in mind when you hear the FOX News meme that Obamacare is a “train wreck.” It’s only a train wreck if it fails in California, and it actually appears to be on the rails here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Are Obamacare Exchanges Failing?

  1. Pingback: Is Obamacare a Train Wreck? | Prometheus Unbound

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