Opinion

Obamacare website meltdown leads to paper applications

Insurance application

With the Affordable Care Act’s glitch-ridden, poorly designed website grinding the grand opening of its insurance exchange to an inglorious and embarrassing crawl, the heretofore tech savvy Obama administration is now reverting to paper applications.

Some applicants are waiting it out, hoping that the healthcare.gov site will be redesigned sufficiently to at least pretend that it’s working. Others are being redirected straight to the insurers’ own sites, which actually work. But a growing third group of die hards are doing it the time-honored, labor-intensive and error-ridden old fashioned way, according to The Washington Post.

“We have gotten a few [applications] in — by persevering,” Carol Jameson from HealthWorks of Northern Virginia, said in an email to the Post. On Wednesday, a counselor there was able to submit only one application, “but it took four hours because the system kept shutting down,” Jameson wrote. Like Florida and most other states, Virginia uses the federal exchange as opposed to one the state had set up.

If going directly into the system is slow, using paper applications will only multiply the time involved and increase the opportunity for error. The only advantage of paper applications is to give the applicant a placebo. He’s going to walking away with the illusion he’s covered, when in fact he ain’t even close.

That application has to be entered twice — once on paper and once into the system where it presumably really counts, and of course, that’s where the bottleneck lies.

In order to get the information into the system, someone is going to have to decipher someone else’s handwriting, and that’s where the errors will start mounting.

The Post reported:

Officials have declined to release enrollment data for the federal exchange. They have said they can handle applications that come in through their call center, online and by mail. Online bottlenecks are greatly reduced, and call center wait times are down from minutes to seconds, they said. In the first 10 days of operation, the federal Web site has received 14.6 million unique visits, officials said.

But 14.6 million hits does not equal the same number of people successfully enrolled. In fact, some jurisdictions have reported zero enrollees.

So who are the people making use of paper applications?

“These are low- to moderate-income people, stopping by on their lunch break, between picking up their kids. They don’t have time to mess with a Web site that doesn’t work,” said Marie Hurt, director of Southern United Neighborhoods according to the Post.

These are the very people the Affordable Care Act was supposed to have been designed to protect. But by using paper applications, these may be the very people who get screwed in the end.

It all comes down to the bottleneck — the online system.

“If you don’t have a working [online] system, paper doesn’t do you any good. It’s almost worse because there’s this illusion that you’ve finished something,” said Kevin Counihan, executive director of the Connecticut exchange. “When in fact, it’s just getting stacked up waiting for the system to work.”

Still, those in the trenches continue to work under the illusion that the paper application will do the trick.

“You don’t want people to get frustrated and give up,” Hunt said. Maybe in this case, that’s exactly what you want.

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