Skip to main content

Will glitches derail Obamacare?

By Aaron Carroll, Special to CNN
October 8, 2013 -- Updated 1827 GMT (0227 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aaron Carroll: Exchanges one week old: some tout success, others say disaster
  • He says those rooting for failure point to big problems with getting onto exchanges sites
  • He says, problems aside, people are visiting and many are signing up, which was the point
  • Carroll: If government doesn't quickly fix access issues, people will feel bad about law

Editor's note: Dr. Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the director of its Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research. He has supported a single-payer health system during the health care reform debate. He blogs about health policy at The Incidental Economist and tweets at @aaronecarroll.

(CNN) -- After years of waiting, Obamacare finally fully opened for business last week. After three and a half years, Americans who were uninsured or underinsured could go to the health insurance exchanges to sign up for private plans or enroll in the Medicaid expansion. Depending on whom you listen to, this was a huge success or an ongoing disaster.

For months, those opposed to the law have been encouraging Americans not to buy insurance in an exchange. They have predicted that rates would be far higher than people think, and they have touted the stories of young, healthy people who have seen rates for more comprehensive insurance roll out with premiums far above what might have been available earlier. Some have even gone as far as to urge young people to burn their Obamacare draft cards (which don't really exist).

The massive problems that have plagued the exchanges since they went online last Tuesday may well have given fresh fodder for such arguments. The first day just about anyone visiting the federal site got an error message and many waited all day without successfully signing up for a plan. Things haven't gotten much better over the course of its first week.

Aaron Carroll
Aaron Carroll

The government has, so far, refused to release any statistics on how many people have managed successfully to sign up for coverage. Given that reporters have been beating the bushes looking for some who have, it's likely the numbers are far less than the administration would like.

But that's not for a lack of trying. There is news to give supporters hope. It appears that the reason things have been so bad is because there is massive interest in the exchanges. Tens of millions of visits to the sites overwhelmed their technical aspects. This type of interest may show that many more people than expected might sign up for coverage. That's certainly good news for those that want the law to succeed.

Moreover, there have been reports of many more people successfully navigating the state-run exchanges than the federal exchange. While not comparable to the millions of visitors reported visiting sites, these early numbers are heartening to those that want to see Obamacare flourish. People are signing up for insurance. As of 3pm ET Monday, at least 95,801 people had created accounts which allowed them to explore what coverage options are available to them. This is based on information provided by individual states who responded to CNN.

That's what the Affordable Care Act was all about.

Gupta: Beware Obamacare scams
'SNL' riffs on online Obamacare troubles

It's still early. People have until December 15th to sign up for insurance policies that will go into effect on January 1. Even if they don't by then, the enrollment period for the first year extends into March, so people can still sign up for coverage in 2014.

Insurance isn't something that people should buy on an impulse. There are many variables to consider, including how much people can afford in premiums and how much they're willing to accept in terms of deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. So no one should expect, or encourage, people to rush into a decision. They should take their time.

For the last few weeks, those who are most opposed to Obamacare have done everything in their power to stop the law from going into effect. They knew that once the exchanges and the Medicaid expansion opened, it would be almost impossible to stop the law. It would be far easier, politically, to stop people from signing up for insurance than to take it away from them after they got it.

The government shutdown we are now experiencing was the final threat to prevent Obamacare from fully opening. It failed. While the government is now defunded, Obamacare is not. It's gone into effect.

Enrollment attempts 'inching along' one week later

Even more ironically, the shutdown has given Obamacare a surprising public relations boost. Had the government not closed, it's likely that most of the news stories of the last week would have focused on the exchange rollout. Since that's gone so poorly, from a technical standpoint, the news would have been flooded with stories of Obamacare's failures and problems.

Instead, we're watching stories about the fight between the Democrats and Republicans over the shutdown and between traditionalist and hardline conservatives in terms of strategy. Those most opposed to the law unwittingly handed Obamacare a huge gift, while the rest of the country suffers.

Are you uninsured?

But the government has a lot of work to do. The websites still don't work well. The last time I visited my state's exchange, which is hosted by the federal government, I still couldn't get on to see plans. People may give the site some slack at the beginning, but as time goes on, they will become more and more annoyed at technical difficulties. And bad feelings about the site could translate into bad feelings about the law in general.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aaron Carroll.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT