What broke the Obamacare web site? The need to hide the costs of the health plans

Article Highlights

  • Why require registration just to browse among the health plans?

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  • The fact is that the registration process is still systemically flawed.

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  • The hardest thing about Obamacare all along has been the need for its architects to conceal its painful truths.

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The Obama Administration may take their healthcare website offline again, for another major renovation. This time, the plan is to make it easier to browse plans without first registering for the site, according to news reports.

Why require registration just to browse among the health plans?

When the Medicare’s Part D drug website launched in 2005, it had no similar requirement. Consumers were able to view plans, evaluate the benefit designs, see what drugs were covered, and even know the underlying price of plans before any discounts or subsidies were applied.

In the case of Obamacare, the registration process helps determine someone’s eligibility for the health plans, but more important, how much in subsidies they are eligible for. The reason the administration didn’t allow unfettered access to information on the plans (without first registering) was to hide the true cost.

Without first collecting a person’s financial data, there is no way to know how much the government credits will subsidize the cost of a plan.

What consumers would be left to judge is the actual price of the coverage. And in most cases, that’s quite high.

When Part D launch, a deliberate decision was made to report not only the price that the consumer would pay for coverage, but the actual cost to the government. The clearness around this data has enabled consumers to evaluate how much the plans are actually worth, and how much in profits go to various middlemen.

In the case of Obamacare, the web site was made needlessly complex just in order to avoid this sort of transparency. There was probably fear in the White House that if consumers browsed plans and saw the list cost (without first knowing how much the government would subsidize their plan) many people would not return.

Lifting the registration requirement won’t solve all the woes. The fact is that the registration process is still systemically flawed. Lifting the initial requirement to register will simply mean fewer people have to go through this broken portal.

The biggest problem remains the middleware that allows different government agencies to talk with one another, in order to determine someone’s eligibility for subsidies. These problems are likely to take weeks and probably months to sort out.

In the meantime, lifting the initial registration requirement will help unburden some consumers from the initial problems. It’s a band aide, at best.

But now people will also see the real costs (if the Administration leaves these numbers visible to unregistered users). The hardest thing about Obamacare all along has been the need for its architects to conceal its painful truths.

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