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Sun., Oct. 27, 2013

Editorial: fails to meet consumers’ basic needs

The federal government created a mandate for uninsured people to purchase health insurance online, set up a virtual store and then failed to unlock the door for most customers. Is this any way to run the signature legislative achievement of President Barack Obama?

Unbelievable. Inexcusable.

Thursday’s edition of the New York Times has the back story on the failed rollout, and it is infuriating. Like proud expectant parents, White House officials held briefings for reporters, pundits and members of Congress in the hopes that they would spread the news.

It’s shiny, fast and easy to use! It’s like booking a room or a hotel! It’s delightful! It’s de-lovely!

It … doesn’t work.

Rollout day was Oct. 1. A day that will forever live in bureaucratic infamy. Users were like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” performing repetitious tasks but never breaking through the portal hell known as The next day, they’d roll out of bed and do it again.

Now, nearly four weeks have passed, and it hasn’t gotten appreciably better. The White House announced on Friday that the website should be running smoothly by the end of November. If it takes longer than that, the feds should consider moving back the deadlines for signing up.

Last week, a congressional committee grilled the technology contractors, but they all said the same thing. Each of them was handed only a piece of the construction, and Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare Services were responsible for integration and testing the performance. They also said they reported problems, with some recommending a delay of the rollout.

In stark contrast to the availability of ebullient officials before implementation, key administration leaders have retreated to the communications bunker. Figures on how many people have signed up have been kept under wraps. Questions on what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knew and when she knew it have been deflected. She will appear before Congress this week in what ought to be viewed as her final chance to explain why she shouldn’t be fired.

Meanwhile, the health care exchange in Washington state is running fairly efficiently. However, because of a system error, about 8,000 applicants erroneously qualified for a higher tax credit, officials announced on Friday. This has already been corrected and applicants will be notified. About 35,000 people have signed up for coverage, most of whom qualify for expanded Medicaid. It appears many people are window shopping and waiting to make their final decisions.

It’s fair to say that the feds figured more states would apply for health care exchange grants so they could run their own. However, 36 states decided to dig in, either hoping the Supreme Court would toss the law or a prospective Romney administration would repeal it.

Now the feds are faced with far more customers than they expected, but it still doesn’t excuse the rollout fiasco. Shoppers must be freed from their online nightmare and they mustn’t be penalized for the delays.

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