Hit & Run

Peter Suderman on the Latest Obamacare Workaround



In October, when it became clear that Obamacare's online enrollment system wasn't functioning, President Obama gave a speech in which he told people who wanted to sign up to contact call centers instead, or fill out pen and paper applications. This week, the administration announced that it would be employing another manual workaround, this time for critical insurer payment systems. In this case, it's not because the payment system is broken. Instead, it's because the part of the system that is supposed to both calculate how much money the government owes insurers in premium subsidy and cost-sharing payments and make the appropriate payments simply hasn't been built yet.

What hasn't been built can't be used, but insurers need to be paid in order for the system to function. So the administration has decided to require insurers to estimate how much they are owed and submit payment requests manually. Later, after the systems are built, the plan is to sort out the details and figure out the exact amounts that should have been billed, then reconcile any differences.

Because it deals with the insurance industry side of the system, this temporary, technical tweak will probably garner far less attention than the ongoing problems with the consumer side of the federal exchange system. But as Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman explains, the on-the-fly patch offers a revealing moment for the law all the same, one that highlights how unfinished, unaccountable, and unworkable the health law continues to be.