is Buggy, So What?

imagesThe website that is supposed to guide Americans through the health insurance buying process is, and since its roll out a short while ago, there have been complaints about its awkwardness and inability to complete the task of getting people signed up. The Republicans, desperate for anything that looks like a win these days, have latched onto the bugs as proof that the American government can’t accomplish anything. The Democrats are wondering what to do. In truth, everyone needs to calm down as the whole thing is far from a disaster.

First off, for people who already have health insurance and are happy with their coverage, this software issue is completely irrelevant. The new laws have no impact whatsoever on existing policies. In America, that means an overwhelming majority are completely unaffected by the issue. It only affects those who are uninsured or who are dissatisfied with their coverage and are seeking a change.

Second, the website will only register people in states that have chosen not to set up their own insurance exchanges. Residents of California and New York, for example, are immediately sent to their local websites, which appear to work well enough. Only 19 states have just the federal market place. So right off the bat, this isn’t a national crisis even for those who are uninsured.

Third, the website is not the only way to get information or to register and purchase insurance. The website’s home page even asks if the visitor wants to pursue things on-line or by telephone. The number, toll-free, is listed (1-800-318-2596, TTY: 1-855-889-4325) and it is staffed around the clock. There is a small business help line that is open 9am to 7 pm Eastern time Monday through Friday (1-800-706-7893, TTY: 1-800-706-7915). There is also an on-line chat function. Further, there is a “find help” function that allows the visitor to enter his or her zip code and the website provides contacts for personal attention. A random search for a Wisconsin zip code resulted in 422 places to contact for assistance listing phone numbers and addresses.

Fourth, America has in place an entire network of insurance agents whose livelihood is selling insurance products to American residents. More often than not, the people who sell car insurance (and most Americans have that) sell health insurance. In many states, the licensing procedure for life insurance producers includes training about health insurance so that line can be sold as well. According to Discovery Data, there are 1.6 million insurance agents in the US.

Fifth, the website has been up for three weeks. Insurance policies purchased right now won’t go into effect until January 1. Under the law, Americans have until March to get health coverage. Almost five months should be adequate time. After all, when one purchases car insurance, it takes just a few minutes in person or on-line. The health policies exist, and the insurance companies are ready (eager even) to sell. Everyone should be able to devote half an hour to finding insurance in the next five months.

Is the site buggy? Apparently, although one couldn’t find anything that went wrong on a recent brief visit. Is the site in need of improvement? Every site on the web could be better. Does the fact that the site have issues mean the Affordable Care Act is a disaster? Hardly, the ACA could be implemented without the Internet using the phone and insurance agents — insurers have sold their products that way for decades.