New HealthCare.gov data show just how broken it is.
The health insurance signup numbers the White House released Wednesday afternoon were deeply disappointing, though not particularly surprising.
Everyone knows that the HealthCare.gov website has been performing abysmally, and the actual numbers confirmed what everyone could only guess at until now because the White House had withheld the data.
Overall, only about one-fifth of the people the White House expected to sign up for insurance in the first month actually did so: 106,185 against a forecast of 500,000. That's just slightly less than a capacity crowd at Penn State's Beaver Stadium. And of those who signed up, only 26,794 did so on the federally run exchanges in 36 states. The rest enrolled on state-run exchanges.
The White House was pre-spinning the numbers weeks ago, as soon as it was clear that the website, which it had three-and-a-half years to make ready, was dysfunctional. Aides also pointed out that Massachusetts had similarly low sign-up rates when it first rolled out its universal health coverage plan. True, it's human nature to wait until the last minute to do something, especially when that something involves paying money. And the number of people visiting the online marketplaces (26.9 million) does show potentially strong demand for the policies being offered.
But when the White House isn't cluelessly advising people whose health insurance policies are being canceled to go shop at its barely functional website, it's acting as if there's plenty of time for people to sign up because the open enrollment period doesn't end until March 31. Tell that to millions of would-be enrollees who don't have the luxury of waiting that long because their insurance expires at the end of this year.
Administration troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients promised the website would be working smoothly for most users by the end of this month. Even if the exchanges begin to work well by then -- a big if -- that will leave people whose insurance policies run out at the end of the year little time to sign up for insurance that kicks in on New Year's Day. The deadline for signing up for insurance that begins Jan. 1 is Dec. 15.
That's frightening for two reasons. One is that the White House has next to no credibility left when it comes to promises about its website. The other is that the administration's disastrous incompetence is panicking Democrats, emboldening Republicans and threatening to unravel health reform.
That would be a sickening outcome, but with each passing day, there is more to do and less time to do it.
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