Thousands Stuck in Obamacare Appeals Limbo



You may have heard that HealthCare.gov, which powers the federally run health insurance exchange for 36 states, is, after its disastrous rollout last year, all fixed up and working basically fine. Obamacare is on track. But that's not true, it seems, for anyone who wants to file an appeal regarding insurance coverage obtained through the system.

Some 22,000 people have already filed appeals, saying that the system made a mistake with their application. But those appeals have gone nowhere, because the computer system meant to handle them has not been built, according to The Washington Post, which obtained access to internal government data on progress completing the website. Telephone help doesn't work either, because call center employees can't access the appeals system either. 

The Post had to rely on leaked government data and anonymous insiders for its report because the Obama administration never disclosed the exchange's lack of appeals functionality. When asked about the appeals mechanism, an administration spokesperson responded with a weasely half-admission that, yes, the appeals system isn't finished, saying, "We are working to fully implement the appeals system." Progress! Always progress. Except that there's no indication that the administration is making any. Insiders tell the Post that they have no idea when the system will be complete.

If anything, the administration has worked to mislead people about the status of the appeals functionality, setting up a system that allowed someone to file an appeal that, after being sent off, entered a sort of digital limbo.

The appeals system appears to be one of many components of Obamacare's technology that has not been built yet. At the end of last year, a senior tech official for Medicare, which manages the health exchange, told members of Congress that 30-40 percent of the system had yet to be completed, including crucial payment systems. Those payment systems, which include various money-shuffling risk-mitigation schemes that the administration says are critical to keeping the whole law afloat, still haven't been completed. The administration recently fired its old tech contractor brought on a new firm to complete the remaining work.

Whatever else one thinks about the law and its design, it's clear that the administration, as well as several state governments attempting to build their own exchanges, wasn't even close to sufficiently prepared for launch last October. This looks like a project that needed another year or more before going live. Instead, the administration chose to beta test a faulty, incomplete product on the public while papering over their own administrative failures and incompetence.