Politics & Policy

The Most Surprising News About Healthcare.gov Isn't Its Failure


U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park, testifying before a House oversight committee on Nov. 13.

Photograph by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park, testifying before a House oversight committee on Nov. 13.

By now, everybody probably knows the dismal October enrollment numbers for the Obamacare health-insurance exchanges. Only 106,000 people selected coverage from state and federal online marketplaces in the first month of operation. A paltry 26,794 signed up using healthcare.gov, the federal government’s barely functional website. This is embarrassing for the Obama Administration. But is it surprising?

Considering everything we now know about the tortured birth of the website, it’s remarkable that even this small number of people has been able to navigate it successfully. White House officials have been assiduously trying to lower expectations concerning healthcare.gov. It’s time to take the administration’s spin control seriously and marvel that it is making any progress at all.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the White House’s chief technology officer, Todd Park, assured the House oversight committee that the administration was laboring diligently to repair the website. But he conceded it could still handle only 25,000 users simultaneously, much less than the 60,000 the White House originally envisioned. At least, Park would claim, the White House was almost halfway there. This was the same hearing at which a witness from the Government Accountability Office testified unhelpfully about total spending on the dysfunctional site that was “north of” $600 million through the end of September.

CGI Federal (GIB), the primary contractor on the project, continues to have difficulty solving the website’s malfunctions, as the Washington Post reports, with successful repairs to “only about six of every 10 of the defects it has addressed so far.” Then again, CGI Federal is more than halfway there, too.

Healthcare.gov probably won’t be fully operational by the end of this month, as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has repeatedly promised. Again, no surprise. Other White House officials have been wisely lowering expectations about meeting that self-imposed deadline.

Perhaps the biggest Obamacare news of the week is a Slate poll showing that 13 percent of Americans think the website had been a success so far. These people apparently haven’t been reading the news—and they probably haven’t tried to use healthcare.gov, either.

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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