Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ObamaCare's Poster Child, California, May Delay Online Enrollment

During a June trip to California, President Obama stopped in San Jose to talk about the state's health exchange. Golden State officials were among the most aggressive and enthusiastic in the nation when it came to implementing the law, and Obama touted their work on the health care overhaul as a model for the nation. 

Opponents of Obamacare, the president said, "had all kind of sky-is-falling, doom-and-gloom predictions" about how the law might fail. California was proving them wrong. “It turns out that what we are seeing in the states that have committed themselves to implementing this law correctly, we’re seeing some good news.”

But the latest news from California's exchange is not so good for the president's health law. State officials warned yesterday that they might delay the opening of the exchange's online enrollment system—the core feature of the exchange.The Wall Street Journal reports:

California's new health-insurance exchange, the biggest of the state marketplaces emerging under the federal health-care overhaul law, said there was a possibility consumers won't initially be able to enroll in coverage online when it is launched on Oct. 1.

Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state agency creating the exchange, said Thursday in a meeting of its board that the agency potentially would "phase in support" for the exchange, starting with allowing offline means of sign-up and later adding the ability to fully enroll online.

Lee said that the decision to delay hasn't officially been made yet, and that the announcement was made in order to help manage expectations. And enrollment, he said, would still be possible over the telephone. 

Even still, this is a worrying sign for the law's implementation. And it suggests that criticisms aimed at the law's complex technical challenges were, at the very least, not too far off base.

It also threatens to undermines the president's promises about how the law will work. When Obama stopped in San Jose in June, he said that one of the key things to know about the law was that uninsured individuals in California would be able to buy quality, affordable health coverage under the law beginning in October. "And here’s how," he said. "States like California are setting up new, online marketplaces where, beginning on October 1st of this year, you can comparison shop an array of private health insurance plans side-by-side, just like you were going online to compare cars or airline tickets." Maybe not? 

If California goes through with the delay, it won't be the only state to have missed the deadline for online enrollment. Oregon, another eager implementer of the health law, has already officially confirmed that its online enrollment won't be ready on October 1.