December 27, 2013

WaPo, Which Claims to Have Discovered It, Says Obama Admin ‘Quietly Delayed’ HealthCare.gov Enrollment Deadline

With a headline at a Washington Post story by Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin reading “Obama administration quietly extends health-care enrollment deadline by a day,” you would think that the administration issued some kind of press release without comment — or at least, as was the case with its announcement waiving the individual mandate for those who had individual policies cancelled, communicated the change to sympathetic senators or congresspersons.

Nope. The Post’s detailed coverage tells us that those involved merely made “a software change that government officials and IT contractors inserted into the computer system over the weekend for the online insurance marketplace.” Readers will see who was actually told about the change after the jump (bolds are mine):

Obama administration quietly extends health-care enrollment deadline by a day

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Obama administration officials acknowledged Monday that they made an 11th-hour change in rules for the federal health insurance exchange to allow Americans to enroll in health plans through Christmas Eve — 24 hours later than advertised — and still get coverage that begins on New Year’s Day.

The switch occurred in the form of a software change that government officials and IT contractors inserted into the computer system over the weekend for the online insurance marketplace. Anyone who finishes enrolling by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday will have insurance on Jan. 1, the first day it becomes available.

Administration officials did not disclose the change to the public or to most insurers participating in the new marketplace before it was reported by The Washington Post.

So I guess we’re to infer that “some insurers” or “a few insurers” learned of the change, but absolutely no one else. The administration apparently just relied on word of mouth and an inquisitive newspaper to eventually leak out the news. This isn’t a “quiet” delay; it’s an utterly silent one.

The move had unquantifiable but decidedly negative real-world consequences, as we shall see:

Asked about the reason for the extra day — and why it was kept secret at first — officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency overseeing the health insurance exchange, at first declined to respond and then issued two statements with slightly differing explanations. Julie Bataille, director of CMS’s office of communications said in the second statement that the official deadline for signing up for Jan. 1 coverage remained Monday, but added: “[W]e have taken steps to make sure that those who tried to enroll today but had delays due to high traffic have a fail-safe.”

With the switch late and unannounced, people around the country eager for insurance treated Monday as a real deadline, swamping the federal marketplace’s Web site …

… for the most part, the Web site held up, even under Monday’s duress, significantly better than during October and November, the first two months of the sign-up period, when software and hardware defects frustrated many consumers who received error messages that thwarted their ability to sign up.

Through the day, HealthCare.gov had intermittent problems accepting new applications because of high traffic volume. The number of people on the Web site simultaneously peaked at about 90,000 late Monday morning, according to government figures that have not been made public. And starting at 11 a.m., consumers intermittently were placed in online queues — a relatively new feature of HealthCare.gov for periods when the site has more traffic than it can handle — rather than being allowed to apply on the spot.

That’s all well and good, guys, but what about the applicants who didn’t learn of the stealth deadline extension, threw up their hands in disgust on Monday, and, not knowing any better, gave up even trying? And what about those who had other real-world conflicts intervene, like, I don’t know, maybe Christmas Eve travel or family get-togethers?

Can you imagine the flak a Republican or conservative administration would get from the press for “disseminating” information in such a manner and so callously allowing some customers to remain shut out and uninformed?

The passes this administration gets for incompetence, stupidity, and in this case what appears to be craven cowardice — even when caught red-handed — continue to utterly amaze.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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2 Comments

  1. The switch occurred in the form of a software change that government officials and IT contractors inserted into the computer system over the weekend …

    If “government officials and IT contractors” can and will make this fairly innocuous change without notifying the public and sans congressional oversight, what means have we or anyone to know of or object to other and possibly more egregious changes in the future? Is there or should there be a public record of all changes to the software? And how about checksums (or CRCs or something) to give some assurance that the running code is, in fact, the sanctioned code.

    Comment by Sam Cox — December 27, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

  2. Geez, Sam, you want to hold these guys to standards. Those are only for the little people.

    Comment by Tom — December 27, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

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