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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT