The continuing saga of the federal government’s Affordable Care Act website is worth following, because it is telling us a lot about how modern government works, and doesn’t work, and what we should believe.
Most people, including me, have focused on the access issues with the Healthcare.gov website — that is, the fact that there are ongoing reports that people simply cannot get on the website and use it as intended, and whether the design of the system in fact works against that. But there are other issues, too.
For example, how complete and accurate is the information the website is collecting? Anyone who has filled out a health-care application knows that a mass of information must be provided. A recent article quoted industry sources who estimated that only one in 100 applications completed on the website contain enough information to actually enroll someone in a plan — which of course is the entire point. As the article notes, much more serious problems could be coming if people believe they have successfully enrolled, only to be told later that the information they provided was insufficient or lost.
And speaking of information — how secure is the data those lucky people who have been able to use the website have provided? Health care information and financial information is extraordinarily confidential. Given the apparent design flaws with the website, why should anyone have great confidence that the designers at least got system security right? Given the coverage of the problems with the website, are legions of hackers around the world targeting it as an easy potential source for personal information, like Social Security numbers and credit card data?
And finally, there is cost. Some sources have tried to piece together government contracting data to determine how much the Affordable Care Act websites have cost the taxpayer. The Washington Post says about $400 million has been committed to the health care exchanges. The Digital Trends website estimates the cost so far is more than $500 million, with a total cost of more than $2 billion expected.
With costs like this, it’s fair to ask whether we are really getting our money’s worth. On Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius visited Pittsburgh as part of a nationwide campaign to tout the exchanges. She assured the audience that the “glitches” were being addressed and the system is getting better every day. Event planners had brought more than 20 certified health care application counselors to meet with uninsured people, but even the certified counselors couldn’t access the Healthcare.gov website. So, who do you believe — the bureaucrat who says the system is improving, or the fact that even computer geeks can’t get it to work?