October 5, 2013

USAT’s Tim Mullaney: ‘HealthCare.gov a Winner Despite Glitches’

Early Friday afternoon, USA Today’s Tim Mullaney excused HealthCare.gov’s “glitches,” confidently predicted that “they’ll get fixed” (in about two months!) and pronounced the enterprise “an out-of-the-box success for consumers shopping for health insurance” which will “sell tons of insurance,” even though he had to go to a canned calculator found elsewhere to do much of his work. As to “selling tons of insurance”: Well of course it will, if allowed to continue. Thanks to a Supreme Court majority led by John Roberts, it’s a legal requirement to do so under penalty of law.

Mullaney also contended that HealthCare.gov’s virtual failure to sign up “consumers” — a situation that certainly was not remotely remedied when he submitted his column — was little different from what many private-sector companies have experienced and overcome. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):

Review: HealthCare.gov a winner despite glitches
Look past its start-up glitches — they’ll get fixed — HealthCare.gov is an out-of-the-box success for consumers shopping for health insurance.


Any e-commerce veteran can tell you: If a start-up’s business proposition is sound and it delivers what it promises, it survives early days when websites crash and chaos reigns. Then it thrives. We’ve seen it over and over, from America Online’s mid-1990s outages to any of several crashes in Netflix shares when the company made pricing mistakes or Blockbuster made a run at its markets.

This brings us to Tuesday’s launch of HealthCare.gov, the government-run insurance marketplace and centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act. The headlines are dominated by technical glitches likely to be gone by Thanksgiving. (More on that later.) Two main questions will matter once they’re fixed.

Geez, Tim, can you name any other online enterprise which has had “glitchy” problems preventing the vast majority of customers from getting through, let alone completing purchases, for almost two months (you’re the one who cited “Thanksgiving,” which this year is on November 28)? The ones you cited don’t fit that template.


The most important is whether HealthCare.gov meets its fundamental task — creating a marketplace with an array of choices and competitive prices. The other is whether it explains insurance so people understand it — how to buy it, why they should, how the law’s subsidies work, and helps them start grasping which policy works for them.

On those counts, HealthCare.gov is an out-of-the-box success.

To look at HealthCare.gov, especially knowing some Internet history and health insurance, is to understand it will sell tons of insurance.

To start with, 2.8 million people crashing a site on Day One is considered a high-class problem. “It shows they’ve hit the target,” says venture capitalist David Jones, ex-chairman of health insurer Humana. “It’s obvious.”

This is really hard to take. The problem is that people who have been forced to purchase a product are being prevented to do so by the people who have created the legal obligation. That’s “high-class”?

Here’s more:

Let’s say up front that HealthCare.gov’s problems have kept me from doing all the comparison shopping I’d planned(So he used “a calculator provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation.” — Ed.)

Nonetheless, we know HealthCare.gov already offers about as much choice as auto-insurance exchanges like eSurance.com. ESurance was fine: In five minutes, I got quotes from three companies, and the site was ready to process my credit card. HealthCare.gov offers the average consumer 53 plans, according to the government, with the “vast majority” having more than one carrier to choose from.

Translation: Government-run HealthCare.gov didn’t work, so I had to use a what-if calculator to complete my column. But privately run Esurance “was fine.” Therefore, Healthcare.gov, which says it offers more plans, is just as good, if not better.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Mullaney’s writeup is more like a parody of George Orwell’s 1984 than a site review. Failure is success. Two months is a normal ecommerce problem resolution time frame. Crashed sites “hit the target.” Oh, and Mullaney’s final conclusion:

(At) HealthCare.gov, the fundamentals are well-priced insurance, clearly explained. And they’re in place.

Yeah, it’s just that almost nobody can get to them.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.



  1. I didn’t know The Onion had let it’s writers write for USA Today.

    But seriously, anyone who writes a glowing positive report for something based not on what he objectively saw, but what the people who are pushing for and have a stake in it claim about it ought to be canned. If the “insurance” is so well-priced and clearly explained, why are most people avoiding purchasing any?

    Could you imagine the lefty outcry there would be if someone from say, the WSJ wrote a glowing review of a new car Toyota was putting out but had not released yet based merely on how good the company said the car will be?

    Comment by zf — October 5, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

  2. Sorry, meant to add this link to my post:


    Comment by zf — October 5, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

  3. No one said the serious part of the glitches would last two months. (Todd Park promised significant improvements by early this week, which so far looks oversold). As for the serious part of your question, yes, it happened in 1996 to AOL for the better part of 1-2 weeks. They then went from half a million clients to 26M by 2000. Amazon had significant problems as well early on. Overstock had massive performance issues during a software upgrade in 05 or 06. Netflix lost two-thirds of its shareholder value in the ancient times of, oh, 2011. And Priceline lost 99% of its value in 1999-2000, but is a 500-bagger since. So yes, e-commerce companies come back from all manner of disasters, and pretty commonly. Now, were you actually interested in an answer to your question? TJM.

    Comment by tim mullaney — October 8, 2013 @ 12:35 am

  4. [...] strongly criticized his review on Saturday (at BizzyBlog; at [...]

    Pingback by BizzyBlog — October 8, 2013 @ 10:57 am

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