The disastrous opening of Obamacare’s online health insurance exchanges was largely overshadowed by the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. Nearly three weeks later, the website is still not fully functional. Citizens have until December 15th to signup for coverage that will kick in on January 1st. All eligible consumers must have some form of coverage by February 15th, or they could face tax penalties. Early enrollment for 2014 ends on March 31st.
Given the problems HealthCare.gov has suffered, these deadlines need to be extended. The government hoped to sign up over 500,000 people by the end of October, and it appears they will fall far short of that goal. While the year long delay that Republicans asked for recently is excessive, some sort of delay is likely needed.
The government should add time to the deadlines equal to the amount of time the website remains broken. At the very least we are looking at a month at this point. The most important deadline at this point is the February 15th deadline for avoiding tax penalties. It should be noted that not everyone who lacks insurance faces a tax, only those that can afford it and choose not to buy it.
Though the Obamacare website has had a terrible roll out, this should not be viewed as a condemnation of the entire law. The website was built by a private contractor who was given a very short window to complete a difficult task. Early demand exceeded nearly all expectations. The roll out would have been far more successful if more states had set up their own exchanges. Those that have are reporting much more success than the federal exchange.
Those that have been able to use the exchanges have mostly reported positive experiences. The exchange allows consumers to shop through a variety of health insurance options. Options in a competitive market are something both Republicans and Democrats believe is needed to help bring down prices. Lower than expected premiums have been reported across the US in these new exchanges. The law may work, we just have to get over some early speed bumps.