Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might have been more gracious recently when a local council member handed her a copy of “Websites for Dummies,” while she was pitching the virtues of Obamacare at a community meeting. Perhaps his gesture was too little too late – as the “enrollment numbers” for www.healthcare.gov have been released for its first month of operation. Even to the supporters of this legislation they were “bad.”
Let me be the first to say that I am not a computer programmer. But I do have a solid educational background in logic and an affinity for math – which are the bases for any program. As an end user, I have commissioned and paid to have two separate programs written. And while I believe that I might have, with the aid of “Websites for Dummies” and other reference guides, been able to write those programs myself, I recognized that contracting this work out to people who made a living doing just that would be both time and cost effective.
In my case, unlike the government website administrator, I had accountability – to the bank that held my mortgage, to my dry cleaner, to my dogs to provide food for them and to myself. In the second of these efforts I made a terrible mistake.
I hired a programmer who talked a great game and delivered virtually nothing. After looking at what he had developed after three weeks (the whole project was only supposed to require six), I realized that I had spent five thousand dollars on a retainer on which I would see no return. (The fact that he accepted the retainer and immediately took off for ten days in Tahiti – where he could “think about the project” was my first clue). So I fired him and replaced him with someone who was able to accomplish the task.
You would think that if a person were in charge of a major project such as the Obamacare website rollout, that individual would be getting very little sleep and spend all her time checking to make sure that the project was on schedule and was working properly. Apparently, that is not the tack that HHS Secretary Sebelius employed. There is no other reason to believe that it has been such a dismal failure. And that despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent.
What should be disturbing to anyone who is being pressed into the Obamacare system is that developing a website is by far the most simple of the tasks that government will be expected to perform regarding the nation’s healthcare system. If this is such a disaster, what are we to expect down the road when we might actually need to use the much touted “superior health insurance” for which they want us to sign on the dotted line?
One of the issues that I think was missed in the website development but which is borne out by the initial low enrollment numbers, notwithstanding the federal website’s problems, is the fact that “selling insurance” is not the same as “selling a tangible product.”
If you go to Amazon you can look at that beautiful four piece toaster or the warm and snuggly down comforter. These are items that you can touch, feel and envision in your home. Insurance, whether it is for your house, auto, health or life are intangibles – and they are products, while they have a potential value, are ones that you hope never to use.
Most consumers view paying for any kind of insurance as a monetary outlay and paying the premiums does not provide the psychic reward that purchasing a tangible product offers. They view this as an expense rather than a benefit. Therefore, this is a hard sell – and one that is best effected with the interaction of another person.
A website, even the best designed one, does not provide that personal dialogue and discussion. And when you have a website that simply does not function in a user-friendly manner, that provides a discouragement that the already unwilling potential buyer might find to be the final reason not to bother with it.
With only slightly more than 100,000 people “enrolled” in Obamacare during the first month of operation, the administration is only twenty per cent to the goal they have set for the law to work. By “enrolled” we do not know how many of those people are purchasers – and how many are merely browsers who are considering making a purchase. And it is significant that three quarters of the people who have so enrolled came through websites that the states, rather than the Federal government constructed. So apparently, building a working website is not all that tough as 36 states have accomplished it.
But imperative in Obamacare’s succeeding is the demographics of who is actually signing up for health insurance. It is imperative if this law is to work that 2.4 Million people who are 18-34 years old participate because they will be overcharged for the insurance that they receive in order to make up for the deficits that older and sicker people will drain from the insurance companies. We have no word as to the makeup of those enrollees although that is promised for next month.
As I write this I am listening to President Obama give a press conference in which he is offering a “fix” for those whose health insurance contracts have been cancelled by their carriers. His solution is to “allow” those insurance companies who cancelled their contracts which did not comply with Obamacare’s mandated coverage to extend those through 2014. There is only one problem with this solution – as well intended as it might be.
The states regulate insurance companies who offer product within their boundaries and the Federal government does not have the power nor the authority to issue this “fix.” And therein lies the fundamental flawed premise which underpins Obamacare and every other over-reaching intrusion that those of “the Federal government can do it best and should do it” mindset subscribe.
Not surprisingly, even if we accept the statement that 100,000 have actually enrolled and will confirm that with premium payments to Obamacare in the first month, almost four times as many people have signed up for Medicaid – which is free to them and will result in increasing medical costs paid by all American taxpayers. The explosion in Medicaid in and of itself will certainly sabotage the financial assumptions that President Obama made and touted that this law would actually provide savings to our skyrocketing healthcare costs.
But if the President wants to attract those 18-34 year olds who under the most rosy scenario have to enroll in order for this scheme to work, I would like to offer a suggestion that may attract them. Simply offer them a new free iPhone every time one is released. Giving away “free stuff” is something that this administration does very well.