Skip to main content

Will glitches derail Obamacare?

By Aaron Carroll, Special to CNN
updated 2:27 PM EDT, Tue October 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aaron Carroll: Exchanges one week old: some tout success, others say disaster
  • He says those rooting for failure point to big problems with getting onto exchanges sites
  • He says, problems aside, people are visiting and many are signing up, which was the point
  • Carroll: If government doesn't quickly fix access issues, people will feel bad about law

Editor's note: Dr. Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the director of its Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research. He has supported a single-payer health system during the health care reform debate. He blogs about health policy at The Incidental Economist and tweets at @aaronecarroll.

(CNN) -- After years of waiting, Obamacare finally fully opened for business last week. After three and a half years, Americans who were uninsured or underinsured could go to the health insurance exchanges to sign up for private plans or enroll in the Medicaid expansion. Depending on whom you listen to, this was a huge success or an ongoing disaster.

For months, those opposed to the law have been encouraging Americans not to buy insurance in an exchange. They have predicted that rates would be far higher than people think, and they have touted the stories of young, healthy people who have seen rates for more comprehensive insurance roll out with premiums far above what might have been available earlier. Some have even gone as far as to urge young people to burn their Obamacare draft cards (which don't really exist).

The massive problems that have plagued the exchanges since they went online last Tuesday may well have given fresh fodder for such arguments. The first day just about anyone visiting the federal site got an error message and many waited all day without successfully signing up for a plan. Things haven't gotten much better over the course of its first week.

Aaron Carroll
Aaron Carroll

The government has, so far, refused to release any statistics on how many people have managed successfully to sign up for coverage. Given that reporters have been beating the bushes looking for some who have, it's likely the numbers are far less than the administration would like.

But that's not for a lack of trying. There is news to give supporters hope. It appears that the reason things have been so bad is because there is massive interest in the exchanges. Tens of millions of visits to the sites overwhelmed their technical aspects. This type of interest may show that many more people than expected might sign up for coverage. That's certainly good news for those that want the law to succeed.

Moreover, there have been reports of many more people successfully navigating the state-run exchanges than the federal exchange. While not comparable to the millions of visitors reported visiting sites, these early numbers are heartening to those that want to see Obamacare flourish. People are signing up for insurance. As of 3pm ET Monday, at least 95,801 people had created accounts which allowed them to explore what coverage options are available to them. This is based on information provided by individual states who responded to CNN.

That's what the Affordable Care Act was all about.

Gupta: Beware Obamacare scams
'SNL' riffs on online Obamacare troubles

It's still early. People have until December 15th to sign up for insurance policies that will go into effect on January 1. Even if they don't by then, the enrollment period for the first year extends into March, so people can still sign up for coverage in 2014.

Insurance isn't something that people should buy on an impulse. There are many variables to consider, including how much people can afford in premiums and how much they're willing to accept in terms of deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. So no one should expect, or encourage, people to rush into a decision. They should take their time.

For the last few weeks, those who are most opposed to Obamacare have done everything in their power to stop the law from going into effect. They knew that once the exchanges and the Medicaid expansion opened, it would be almost impossible to stop the law. It would be far easier, politically, to stop people from signing up for insurance than to take it away from them after they got it.

The government shutdown we are now experiencing was the final threat to prevent Obamacare from fully opening. It failed. While the government is now defunded, Obamacare is not. It's gone into effect.

Enrollment attempts 'inching along' one week later

Even more ironically, the shutdown has given Obamacare a surprising public relations boost. Had the government not closed, it's likely that most of the news stories of the last week would have focused on the exchange rollout. Since that's gone so poorly, from a technical standpoint, the news would have been flooded with stories of Obamacare's failures and problems.

Instead, we're watching stories about the fight between the Democrats and Republicans over the shutdown and between traditionalist and hardline conservatives in terms of strategy. Those most opposed to the law unwittingly handed Obamacare a huge gift, while the rest of the country suffers.

Are you uninsured?

But the government has a lot of work to do. The websites still don't work well. The last time I visited my state's exchange, which is hosted by the federal government, I still couldn't get on to see plans. People may give the site some slack at the beginning, but as time goes on, they will become more and more annoyed at technical difficulties. And bad feelings about the site could translate into bad feelings about the law in general.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aaron Carroll.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT