There’s good news and bad news for conservatives in the wake of the deal that reopened the federal government. The bad news is that Americans have once again been offered a lousy package that does nothing to solve the nation’s out-control spending habits. The good news is that much of the attention the public devoted to the shutdown and the debt ceiling will now be focused on the disaster known as ObamaCare. It is a disaster wholly owned by Democrats.
Moreover, it is one born of unbridled hubris. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her planners were given ample warning by health industry insiders and low-level Obama administration officials that the exchanges had not been properly tested and implementation schedules were not being met, despite having a three year window and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on building the Healthcare.gov website. Sebelius ignored those warnings. But telltale signs, such as her ongoing efforts to denigrate critics, as well as her refusal to turn over documents to the HHS inspector general for a routine performance audit, indicated all was not well.
The latter revelation might be telling: the actual money spent setting up the website is almost impossible to determine. According to Reuters, the original cost to build the site was approximately $93.7 million. Yet that total tripled to $292 million when new money was assigned to site construction as late as April. That assignment apparently coincided with warnings from federal and state officials that the information technology on which these online exchanges were based was not working properly.
Yet Reuters may be low-balling the total outlay. On October 10, the website Digital Trends initially reported the price tag was $634 million, but later revised the cost down to $500 million when they were told that they were including data unrelated to the current law. The revised totals included $398 million in obligated contracts for building the website and the technology portion of the Federally Facilitated Exchanges being used in states that decided not to set up their own exchanges. An additional $100 million-plus was reportedly spent on salaries and administrative costs.
George Edwards, a computer scientist and professor at the University of Southern California offered the best explanation for the lack of transparency. “I would be careful about jumping to any conclusions before fully understanding what was included in each contract,” he said. “But I can say that, just as in other industries, as you compress the project schedule, the overall cost increases.”
So do the chances for making mistakes, and the debut of Healthcare.gov was little more than a series of computer glitches, site crashes, error messages and excruciating delays. Once again displaying her trademark arrogance, Sebelius contended the reason for the debacle was that “demand was so high, it exceeded even optimists’ expectations.” That’s a remarkable statement, considering every American adult will be required to buy insurance or pay a fine.
Regardless, high demand may not be the problem. Five independent technology experts interviewed by Reuters believe the system’s architecture is flawed, highlighted by the reality that many of the automatic functions emulate what occurs when computer hackers initiate a distributed denial of service (DDOS) that causes malfunctions or an outright crash of a system. HHS twice took the system offline to make repairs, but it still remains buggy.
The most serious bug may not be fixable for years. HHS exchanges are designed to process reports between insurers and the exchanges seven days a week. These “834 transactions” are used to track the policies consumers select at the exchanges, along with whatever subsidies they get, and reconcile those lists with the insurers.
Yet the reconciliation process is a debacle unto itself. Industry sources reveal many of the 834s have been rendered unusable to the point where it can be impossible to determine if an individual has insurance or not. Moreover, they predict the problem will get worse as more people sign up.
Unfortunately for the American public, the technical flaws associated with ObamaCare may be the least of their problems. Far more daunting is the “sticker shock.” Many Americans have been startled to discover that “affordable” health is nothing more than a euphemism as their insurance costs will be double or triple what they previously paid. The Heritage Foundation compiled the best apples-to-apples comparison of one month insurance rates for adults, ages 27 and 50, as well as a family of four, before and after the implementation of ObamaCare. Each group will see an increase in their premium costs in 45 out of 50 states. For 27 year olds, those increases range from a low of 0.8 percent to a high of 252.5 percent. For 50 year olds, the range is 3.6 percent to 256.5 percent. A family of four will see increases ranging from a low of 0.8 percent to a high of 178.7 percent.
And then there are the deductibles. While the federal limit for out-of-pocket expenses will be $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family, ObamaCare deductibles range from the Bronze plan, covering 60 percent of covered medical expenses, up to the Platinum plan covering 90 percent of covered medical expenses. For Americans who don’t understand what this means, one’s plan will pay anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the actual costs incurred for healthcare. The consumer is completely responsible for the remaining costs, plus the cost of the premium. Any expenses not covered by the plan must be paid in full by the consumer. Thus, “affordable” healthcare may be a lot less affordable than most people imagine.
And that’s when people can actually compare prices. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is deliberately attempting to obscure the actual prices of premiums by showing consumers only their net out-of-pocket premiums with the subsidies already subtracted, “because those all-in quotes are so much higher than what’s available on the individual market.”
There’s another shock awaiting many Americans. According to Bloomberg News, ObamaCare is likely to accelerate a trend whereby hospitals will demand upfront payment for non-emergency care “because Americans are increasingly on the hook for more of their own medical costs. And once care is provided, it’s often difficult for hospitals to collect.”
In other words, there are going to be a lot of Americans shocked to discover that “free” healthcare isn’t free at all.
There are also serious privacy issues associated with ObamaCare. In August, 13 Governors sent a letter to Sebelius outlining their concerns that the HHS “has failed to adequately protect the privacy of those who will use the assistance program connected with the new healthcare exchanges.” The House Oversight Committee is also concerned with the possibility of identity theft, especially with regard to the lack of proper training and/or vetting of healthcare “navigators.” And then there’s this sentence buried in the source code for the Heathcare.gov website: “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system.”
Administration officials, and their useful idiot supporters in the media, continue to insist that all is well with the rollout. But considering this administration’s penchant for “spiking the football” whenever they do something they consider a success, it is telling that Sebelius refuses to reveal any data about how many people have actually signed up for a plan. The “most transparent administration in history” claims it will make the figures available sometime in November. “We will release monthly data when it is available,” a senior administration official told CNN. “We have not given an exact date, but it will be after end of month and we will work with states to collect their data to have a good picture of what’s happening across the country.”
The critical data involves how many younger Americans have signed up. As of now only a minuscule percentage of the 14.6 million people of every age who have visited the website have actually signed up for a plan. The administration estimates it needs 7 million new enrollees of which 2.7 are between the ages of 18 and 35 to make the plan viable. If the pool is skewed towards old and sicker Americans, a “death spiral” begins: insurers will lose money this year, forcing them to sharply raise premium prices next year. Higher premiums will be even less attractive to younger healthier Americans who are already getting a raw deal, so they will drop out in greater numbers, causing another increase in premiums. If this vicious cycle can’t be broken, ObamaCare collapses.
The ingredient progressives are forever missing the boat on? Human nature. While older sicker Americans might be inclined to move heaven and earth to obtain health insurance, young Americans, whose alternative for 2014 is a $95 fine or one percent of one’s income, which ever is higher, might be more than willing to blow it off. For perspective sake, imagine a twenty-something faced with a choice of paying for an insurance premium he may never use–or using the money to pay for his iPhone bill.
Money that might be scarce regardless. Investors Business Daily has compiled a daunting list of the “job actions with strong proof that ObamaCare’s employer mandate is behind cuts to work hours or staffing levels.” As yesterday it included 351 employers.
“There’s no widespread evidence that the Affordable Care Act is hurting jobs,” said President Obama in September. A full-time employee, defined as someone who works 30 or more hours a week, must be covered by ObamaCare. A part time employee does not have to be covered. In 2013, 75 percent of the jobs created were part-time. No doubt the president and his followers believe it’s just a coincidence. A train wreck, in large part caused by ObamaCare, is more like it.
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