Last year, in the weeks before Obamacare's exchanges opened for business in October, there were rumors and rumblings from the insurance industry hinting that the website wasn't quite ready for prime time.
It wasn't entirely clear how bad the problems were: One Wall Street Journal report, for example, warned that the system's pricing mechanisms weren't always accurate, but there was little sense of how widespread that glitch was, or if there were other serious problems.
But combined with multiple previous warnings, including a summer report from the Government Accountability Office concluding that it was possible that the exchange system wouldn't be ready on deadline, it seemed clear that the system would be at least somewhat flawed when it opened.
As it turned out, of course, it was a lot worse than that, though the extent of the failure didn't become clear until after it went live.
This year, we're likely to have even less indication of how the system is performing prior to launch. Insurers participating in the testing phase are required to keep the process confidential, The Wall Street Journal reports:
On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services emailed insurers that it would require "all testers to acknowledge the confidentiality of this process to access the testing environment," according to a copy reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
…The email alert spells out exactly what is expected of participants: Insurance-industry officials "will not use, disclose, describe, post to a public form, or in any way share Test Data with any person or entity, including but not limited to the media," unless the recipient also has agreed to the confidentiality provisions.
The new confidentiality agreement won't just cover the industry data that will be included in the marketplace's testing environment. It also includes "results of this testing exercise and any information describing or otherwise relating to the performance or functionality" of HealthCare.gov.
As I've said before, given the tolerable performance of the exchange's front end during the final months of last year's open enrollment period, I don't expect the catastrophic failures we saw last year to be repeated. But if new problems arise this time, we may not know about them before launch.