How's Obamacare going so far in 2014? The White House is insisting that the law is a success, but a spate of recent news items suggest otherwise.
Just today, for example, The Washington Post reported that the Department of Health and Human Services plans to end its relationship with Obamacare tech contractor CGI Federal and switch to a new consulting firm, Accenture. The Post reports that the new firm is being brought on board after HHS concluded that CGI, "not been effective enough in fixing the intricate computer system underpinning the federal Web site."
Given the troubled rollout of the health law's online exchange system last year, this is not entirely surprising. But it also suggests that despite the administration's happy progress reports, all is not entirely well with the federal exchange system, which covers 36 states. As the Post notes, "the administration's decision to end the contract with CGI reflects lingering unease over the performance of HealthCare.gov."
The move suggests that remaining problems may be bigger than the White House is letting on. Accenture, which built California's state-run exchange, does not have any prior experience with federal health IT systems. In other words, federal officials decided that CGI's performance was still so poor that it was worth the considerable startup and transition costs of switching to an entirely new technology firm.
You can see some of the lingering issues with the site in the Associated Press's story about Obamacare "orphans"—individuals who thought they had signed up for coverage under the law, but who have been told there's no record of their enrollment. The story estimates that about 13,000 people remain affected by the issue. And insurers say that there are other remaining sign-up glitches as well, such as duplicate enrollment identification numbers being assigned to multiple people.
Meanwhile, we still don't know the demographic breakdown of who is signing up for coverage under the law. But one big insurer says it now believes that its enrollment pool will end up weighted far more heavily toward sicker, more expensive individuals than it had previously expected. Humana projected yesterday that its risk pools would be "more adverse than previously expected," according to Reuters.
Granted, that's only one insurer. And it may simply be that younger, healthier individuals wait until March, the last month of open enrollment, to sign up for coverage.
The fact is, we still don't really know who is signing up and who is not, or even how many people have paid for their first month's enrollments. But unofficial estimates indicate that the figure is probably low—perhaps just 50 percent of sign ups. The fact that several insurers recently extended payment deadlines to the latter part of this month does not suggest that collection efforts are going smoothly.
What does the White House have to say about all this? Not much. As I noted in my column yesterday, the administration has not been particularly forthcoming with answers about the law. And that doesn't look likely to change soon: The White House officially signaled its opposition today to a House bill that would require the administration to provide data about how personal data was being used and secured under the law, saying the reporting requirements would be too "administratively burdensome."