Obamacare May Be More Than a Website, But It Needs a Website to Function



President Obama will give a White House speech later this morning on the ongoing failure of the health insurance exchanges set up under Obamacare. According to The New York Times, he'll call the snafus "inexcusable" and also argue that the health care law is "more than a website."

That's obviously true in some sense. The law also involves thousands of pages of rules and regulations and more than a trillion dollars of government spending over the next decade.

Regardless of Obamacare's other elements, however, the notion that there's more to the law than the website is not particularly reassuring given how central a smoothly operating online system is to the law's promise of expanding private health coverage to millions of Americans.

The exchange network is the vehicle through which the law's authors envisioned people choosing Obamacare-approved, publicly subsized coverage. If it doesn't work, then that can't really happen—even with manual workarounds like phone or paper applications.

That's because those entries still have to be entered into the online system. As The Washington Post reported earlier this month:

Paper may give people the impression that something is happening when an online system isn't functioning properly. In fact, that's not the case, said Kevin Counihan, executive director of the Connecticut exchange, Access Health CT.

Personnel reviewing paper applications need to manually type data from paper into the same Web-based marketplaces that consumers are using. Reviewers are entering through a different "portal" than one consumers use. But it's the same 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," he said. "When in fact, it's just getting stacked up waiting for the system to work."

The paper process is clunky and prone to errors. And it provides "a substandard user experience," he said.

The same goes for the call centers. Applications taken over the phone still have to be entered online, either at the time of the phone call or sometime later.  And if the system isn't working, that can't be done.