The first phase of Obamacare ended last week much the same way it began: The federal website drew millions of visitors and crashed at least twice.
As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act moves into a new stage, when most consumers must be insured or pay a fine, an estimated 45 million Americans remain uncovered, a continuing burden for medical providers and governments, and a target for Republicans seeking to upend President Barack Obama’s signature initiative in the midterm election.
Still, Obamacare has survived with more than 6 million consumers signed up for private health plans and as many as 3.4 million people being added to the Medicaid program for the poor, according to the latest data. They’ll start using medical services guaranteed by the law’s strict mandates, even as some consumers complain about the high cost of their new premiums and insurers worry about a surge in older, sicker patients.
“The problem isn’t over with the program,” said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. “This is a really complex program that is more than just about registering. It’s about registering the right kinds of people. It’s about the various states ultimately coordinating this effectively with the federal policy. So there’s a million ways this could still go wrong.”
Attention should now turn to the quality of coverage Obamacare enrollees receive, their access to medical services and insurer preparations for 2015. Already, Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., the largest exchange insurer, has warned it may propose “double-digit plus” premium increases for the next enrollment period, which begins in November. Insurers must quickly assess the medical demands of their new customers before filing rates at the end of May.
During the March 31 deadline day for 2014 enrollment, healthcare.gov, the federal exchange website, recorded more than 4.8 million visits, the most in a single day, and there were 2 million calls to the telephone center, Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote on Twitter. At local events across the country, people lined up for hours trying to enroll.