By Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 31, 2013
While national media outlets continue their extensive coverage of Healthcare.gov’s website woes, University health and information experts are not channeling their energy into worrying about these issues. They are confident difficulties surrounding the site’s rollout will be resolved in the future and are more concerned with the potential problems and promises of the Affordable Care Act itself.
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A month after a botched launch, the website’s problems continue to cause much frustration. More than 20 million Americans have visited the healthcare exchange website, but only about 700,000 have succeeded in completing applications for insurance. Even fewer have actually received coverage. Visitors have complained about long waits, irksome glitches and unhelpful customer service when just trying to gain access and sign up for the site.
The blame is widespread. Republicans have blasted the Obama administration for negligently launching the site before it was ready, the White House has blamed the private contractors hired to create the site and the contractors have targeted each other.
But Public Policy Prof. Helen Levy, who specializes in health policy, sees the blame game as shortsighted.
“A few years from now, all this is just going to look like a bump in the road,” Levy said.
Levy said the current outcry parallels the delayed and glitch-ridden rollout of the Medicare, Part D website in late 2005. When mainly elderly beneficiaries went to pick up their subsidized prescription drugs, pharmacists reported coverage verification glitches in the national computer system and could not issue any drugs.
Since the glitch prevented vulnerable seniors from getting their critical medications, the crisis was much more acute.
“Not that the glitches on the current website aren’t a pain, and it’s certainly inconvenient for people and doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence,” Levy said. “But on the other hand, it’s not the same as not being able to get your anti-psychotic medication when you need it.”
It took about five months to resolve the Medicare website issue in 2006, but today, the initial system hiccups are not well remembered.
In her testimony to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius defended and apologized for the problems with the website rollout. Many conservatives have called for her resignation in the face of the botched launch.
Not all professors think the problems represent a temporary blip, though.
“I don't think the magnitude of the problem is being exaggerated,” said Public Health Prof. Charles Friedman. “The website was created, as I understand it, to enable an end-to-end process, and people are having problems completing that end-to-end process.”
From 2007 to 2011, Friedman worked at Health and Human Services, which manages the contractors designing the website. He said there is a critical lack of “highly placed, technically sophisticated” government employees working on the project. Such experts are necessary to ask the right questions, write appropriately articulated contracts and guarantee specific services from private contractors.
“This is a system problem, not a problem of individual ineptitude,” Friedman said.
He added that many critics lack an appreciation for the size and complexity of the project — getting millions of Americans who need coverage to sign up by next year.