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ObamaCare Clusterfuck: 12 days left until enrollment, and the Federal Exchanges can't calculate prices correctly

Wall Street Journal:

Less than two weeks before the launch of insurance marketplaces created by the federal health overhaul, the government's software can't reliably determine how much people need to pay for coverage, according to insurance executives and people familiar with the program.

If not resolved by the Oct. 1 launch date, the problems could affect consumers in 36 states where the federal government is running all or part of the exchanges. About 32 million uninsured people live in those states, but only a fraction of them are expected to sign up in the next year.

Yeah, and no wonder. Who's going to risk a perjury rap and sign up to spend thousands of dollars on a website that's known to be buggy? I mean, imagine that buying insurance really was like buying a flat-screen TV. Would you buy a flat-screen TV with no price sticker, or, worse, randomly changing price stickers? "Wow, I'd swear that was $499. That was what was on the box five minutes ago. Did somebody change it?" "Oh, honey, that's just a bug. Let's buy it anyway! You know you want to!" And here's another question:

The great computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra wrote: "Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence!" So, OK, it's the day after launch in the wonderful new world of ObamaCare, and I go online to and encounter a bug, maybe even a freeze or a crash. Where do I file a bug report? My state exchange? A Navigator? The fresh-faced young Obot who sold me on the idea? My congresscritter or Senator? (Actually, that might be the best option.) More than that, how do I know the system is bug free? The system gives me a price. It seems reasonable. But how do I know it's correct? Is there going to be some point when the administration announces "The reported bug count is zero"? (With an open source project, of course, that would be possible. Not with ObamaCare.) More:

Four people familiar with the development of the software that determines how much people would pay for subsidized coverage on the federally run exchanges said it was still miscalculating prices. Tests on the calculator initially scheduled[*] to begin months ago only started this week at some insurers, according to insurance executives and two people familiar with development efforts.

"There's a blanket acknowledgment that rates are being calculated incorrectly," said one senior health-insurance executive who asked not to be named. "Our tech and operations people are very concerned about the problems they're seeing and the potential of them to stick around."

The Feds disagree:

Federal officials also said ongoing testing is meant to get ahead of such problems. "We continue working with [insurers] and we are confident that on Oct. 1, consumers will see accurate premium costs [note careful qualification], including tax credits," said Brian Cook, a Medicare spokesman.

I think that's crap. If they're still debugging 12 days before launch, all the bugs in the calculators aren't going to be fixed, and that's before we start talking about the rest of the system. This would be true if you or I were building a tiny little website, and it's going to be true for a humongously complex multi-system, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional systems integration project with a ton of different vendors. And if the executives are starting to leak, that means we're in for a round of fingerpointing and blame fixing, since that's their institutional role.

Pass the popcorn!

The real issue here, of course, is that the Exchanges, like the private health insurance industry, shouldn't even exist. There's another computer science saying: "The cheapest, fastest, and most reliable components are those that aren't there." Yep. With single payer Medicare for all, all this nonsense would go away. In fact, if Obama and the Democrats, who suck, had done the right thing in 2009 - 2010, nuked the Republicans with filibuster reform, and passed singler payer, the country would already have saved a trillion dollars. Not to mention lives.

NOTE * Wait, wait, I thought the Exchanges were totally on schedule?

NOTE The California Exchanges claim they will be ready on October 1.

No votes yet


Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

This is incredible!!

Look at how this reads:

If not resolved by the Oct. 1 launch date, the problems could affect consumers in 36 states where the federal government is running all or part of the exchanges. About 32 million uninsured people live in those states, but only a fraction of them are expected to sign up in the next year.

They're almost "boasting" about this--why?

And why, if this is the case-- "As of July 1, 2013, the United States had a total resident population of 316,690,000,"would a target figure of ONLY 7 million enrollees be an acceptable target for the first year?

That, taken with the fact that the Administration's does not intend to enroll the oldest, sickest or poorest--instead, they're planning to "sign up" the youngest and healthiest individuals--how can anyone take this new "health care scheme" seriously?

And I'm not sure what to think about the fact that (according to the transcript that I posted here) "live advisors" may be available to consult, but individuals who want to participate in the Federal Health Exchange will be required to enroll "online."--and presumably at your own home or office--IOW, anywhere but at the same location as your so-called "advisor," LOL!

Yeah, they made sure that they "distanced themselves" from the actual enrollment procedure, didn't they? Why?

BTW, that's a good "California piece."

Why am I not surprised that WellPoint will be dominating at least one State Health Exchange? ;-)

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I'm the precise opposite of a fan of the ACA, but...

As of July 1, 2013, the United States had a total resident population of 316,690,000,

Most of whom are not going to be seeking coverage through the exchanges, at least not right away, because most of them already have some kind of coverage. Hence the 7 million figure.

When you mention the total population, that includes people like me (whose employer-provided insurance seems to pay for nothing, and may not even be available in the future) and others who now have some kind of coverage. "Obamacare" wants to brag about covering everone else, and will be happy with "covering" a fraction of them, even if it results in some currently covered being "uncovered", as seems to be happening in my experience.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

that at least ostensibly, this law was meant to cover a "sliver" of the populace.

I'm aware that Lambert and others have covered that extensively, here.

I probably should have used this figure, from Wikipedia, to question "the upending of employer-provided Group Health Insurance for the masses, for the benefit of the so few (as you point out).

There is no question that the ACA could have been written so that it did not so adversely impact those individuals covered under employer-provided group plans.

One of the biggest kickers is that the relatively "few" that it will help, are (mostly) not even among the most needy Americans.

Just look at the fiasco regarding Medicaid.

Absolutely no coverage for millions and millions of the poorest Americans, in half of the States--and to my knowledge, not a single actual attempt on the part of the Democratic Party (even symbolic) to correct this so-called "oversight."

[Anyone who believes that this was not intentional--hey, "got some swampland to sell you . . .", LOL!]

And the PtB actually want us to believe that this law was implemented to help the most vulnerable--don't think so.

Of course, for over a decade I was part of a coalition that sought health care "reform" that would extend excellent "health care," just not the DLC/Third Way garbage of "extending access" to health care, by setting up the insurance industry preferred individual mandate.

And from what I've read and heard SINCE the law passed (i.e., when the true intentions have come out) the true intention of the ACA was to pave the way for more and more employers to shed their employer-based (group) health insurance plans.

As is often said here--"It's not a bug, it's a feature."

So hey, I'm with you on supporting "Enhanced Medicare For All."

The Repubs efforts at "repeal" are simply "Kabuki," to throw their base a bone. Republican elites want the ACA as much as the Dem elites.

It was intended primarily to benefit the wealthy--and/or more affluent--Americans. Which it does in spades.

And, of course, to benefit state, local, and federal governments, by putting the onus for having health insurance on the individual.

I have a feeling that Dems will be "paying for" the ill-conceived and ill-concocted ACA for quite a few years to come.

Unless they get smart, repeal and ACA, and enact MFA.

[And good luck with your insurance claim! My appeal had nothing to do with "coding," thank goodness. It was a "provider" versus "non-provider" issue, like the earlier issue that I resolved without an appeal. Your situation sounds like a much more complicated matter.]

Pushed for time, apologize in advance for typos, etc.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

--she is truly incredible!

I may also post one from a recent Thursday Press Availabilities (an excerpt). For a moment, I thought that I might be listening to Stephen Moore (Club For Growth) the other day, LOL! I just wonder how Pelosi has been labeled a "liberal?"

And I've long been puzzled by Jerry Brown's liberal label. From what I saw of the California Gubernatorial debates, Republican challenger Meg Whitman ran "somewhat to Brown's left" on a couple of issues (to do with fiscal and union matters).

And, finally, just this week I heard "LA Times" reporter Mark Barabak laughingly say on "The Press Pool," that for all the caricature of Brown as a "liberal," he has long been a fiscal conservative. (BTW, I have read some positive reviews of Brown's tenure this time, so this comment is not meant as an "attack" on him. Just an observation.)

I suppose this partially explains the "rightward" tilt of today's Dem Party . . .

Rainbow Girl's picture
Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

Rather than being totally shocked I just nodded when I read this. But that's because I've been lucky enough to read Lambert's ongoing and unique series on the ObamaCare Clusterfuck in all of its myriad deformed facets.

Here's the related point -- WSJ (as have all/most) coverages of O"Care C'Fuck to date -- focuses *only* on the premium prices. Which as we know is only a small fraction of the financial entanglements (deductible (the boyfriend), copays (the three drug dealers), non-covereds (the drug-dealers girlfriends) and the year-over-year instability (in one direction only, i.e. UP) of the premiums-deductibles-copays-[fill in extraction fee] (the debt-collector knee breaker cousins of all these other characters that move in with you when/if you sign up of a Marketplace Exchange).

In a way, the premiums are just the Mystery Price admission ticket to a big Pinata full of Mystery Price things. Except the Pinata (and it's nasty mystery contents) ends up smashing the holder rather than the other way around.

Which doesn't say much except that the *magnitude* of this issue is, probably, way understated. And it's sort of the main event, no? I mean it's pretty clear that the one thing a person wants to know first (*before* shelling out half or 3/4 of their gross annual pay) is "how much is this going to cost me"?

Chromex's picture
Submitted by Chromex on

The other problem is this, for small employers who currently offer health insurance, the incentives are to stop offering it so that employees can go on the exchanges and get subsidies.
For the past few years the way for a small employer to control rising insurance premiums was to control census and premium costs ( number of employees who are insured) , usually by costing out the premium copayments and having the employees pay a PERCENTAGE OF PREMIUM that was x, y, or z . IF the employee was part time it often did not make economic sense to sign up for insurance. This was particularly true for nonprofts, which are often working with a zero sum budget game ( if census doubles and costs triple, services have to be curtailed).
Small employers have to have an ACA compliant plan if they offer benefits. Some have contractual obligations with Unions etc that mean that they can't simply drop benefits rather than comply. ACA mandates 30 hours a week and up as full time. ACA also mandates a cap on individual premiums determined NOT by hours worked or % of premium but each employee's income from that job. -Many nonprofit employees have more than one job. In some cases the cap is quite large , in others it is very small. ( this totally disregards the cost of determining each employees monthly income from that job). Additionally ACA mandates that employees get insurance. So an employee who passed on it in 2013 will likely have second thoughts in 2014. This will result in much increased censuses. We are being told to expect 8% premium increases and a 4% federal tax on the premiums.
Of course even though the exchanges are set to offer information on October 1,our insurers at present cannot tell me anything. However, when I run numbers ( with what info I can get , admittedly) it seems that both my small nonprofit AND most of the individual employees would benefit the most if my company simply monetized the value of previous benefits given, give that out in the form of a raise and let everyone go to the exchanges. I know a number of small nonprofits in my business ( together we employ hundreds) and all are coming to similar conclusions.
Uninsured employees who are NOT offered insurance through their employer are eligible for subsidies at up to 400% of poverty level. However, those subsidies go away when the employees ARE offered insurance at work.
What all this is about is - if the exchanges cannot calculate accurately at this point, and my anecdotal evidence is even fractionally correct, quite a few in excess of 7 million this year, many of them previously insured, will be traipsing to the exchanges than those in charge think. What could possibly go wrong?

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

it seems that both my small nonprofit AND most of the individual employees would benefit the most if my company simply monetized the value of previous benefits given, give that out in the form of a raise and let everyone go to the exchanges.

Looks like Trader Joe's did that calculation for their part-timers and came to exactly that conclusion. Result: end of health benefits for part-timers. They get $500 + a ticket to the exchanges. And a "Good luck!"

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

Small businesses rush to renew health policies in 2013, avoid higher prices under the ACA

By Associated Press, Published: September 19, 2013

NEW YORK — Many small businesses have found a way to temporarily sidestep some of the headaches brought on by the new health care law.

One of them is Huber Capital Management. The asset management firm is renewing its health insurance policy early, in 2013 instead of 2014. By renewing its policy this year, the company doesn’t have to buy insurance that conforms to the requirements of the new health care law. And it won’t have the surge in premium rates expected under the Affordable Care Act.

“We can just push this whole thing off and defer it for essentially one year,” says Gary Thomas, chief operating officer of El Segundo, Calif.-based Huber Capital, which has nine employees covered by insurance. . . .

Good luck!

Chromex's picture
Submitted by Chromex on

Yes I have requests out for both December and January renewals but the change if I go the December route will be CENSUS driven ( number of employees who now under the law HAVE to have insurance and will therefore take it from me-remember if I offer it they can't get subsidies) and whether I renew in December OR January I could be facing double the census and costs because I have to have open enrollment. I assume Huber capital will too. I would have to raise the copay ( which involves a renegotiation) or cut services. My monetization of the benefit BTW is far greater for my employees than 500 bucks. To say this is extremely disruptive is an understatement.

Chromex's picture
Submitted by Chromex on

Just to be clear I have no problem with monetizing the benefit and having it be what it is because for my management concerns, it is not to avoid paying a benefit that employees have come to expect and that we have been giving it is to avoid cutting services in a tough environment - I expect premium increases, I expect that worker comp will go up etc., and budget for it. But our budget is shrinking quite a bit the sequester took away 13% last year, which is a lot for a small nonprofit and if one significant component of employee benefits doubles or more, the budget is in trouble and, being a 501 c 3 w e can't charge for services. Donations are down statewide year- to-year as well. And if employees are overlal better off i the marketplace it is better to put them there.