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November 26, 2013 9:58 AM How To Un-Freakout

By Ed Kilgore

As one of those folk who look at WaPo’s Wonkblog pretty early every morning, I had hoped to see this sort of lede from Ezra Klein soon, but am happy to see it sooner than I expected:

A spin through HealthCare.Gov this morning went smoothly. The site loaded quickly. The process progressed easily. There were no error messages or endless hangs. I didn’t complete the final step of purchasing insurance but, until then, the site worked — or at least appeared to work — exactly as intended.
My experience isn’t rare. There are increasing reports that HealthCare.Gov is working better — perhaps much better — for consumers than it was a few short weeks ago. “Consumer advocates say it is becoming easier for people to sign up for coverage,” report Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy Goldstein in the Washington Post. “The truth is, the system is getting stronger as it recovers from its disastrous launch,” writes Sam Baker in the National Journal. Applying “was no problem at all, with no delays,” says Paul Krugman.
Reports from inside the health care bureaucracy are also turning towards optimism. People who knew the Web site was going to be a mess on Oct. 1st are, for the first time, beginning to think HealthCare.Gov might work. Data backs them up: By mid-November, the pace of enrollment in the federal exchanges had doubled from what it was in October.

The initial sign-up isn’t the only issue, of course.

The worry, at this point, is that the site is working in ways that are visible but broken in ways that are harder to see. The Obama administration won’t answer direct questions on the percentage of “834s” — the forms insurers need to sign people up for the correct policies at the correct prices — that are coming through with errors. Robert Laszewski, a health-industry consultant with deep contacts among the insurers, told the National Journal the problem is getting better, but that his clients are still seeing a five percent error rate. That’s still too high.

And then, when all the technical issues are resolved, there’s still the task that was worrying Obamacare supporters before October 1:

The next challenge for the law, as the White House knows, will be the outreach challenge of signing up enough young-and-healthy people to balance out its risk pools. That’s a challenge the White House spent quite a lot of time thinking about before this IT nightmare. The question is whether they still have enough time, and enough clout, to get it right.

It will also be interesting to see whether and how quickly the news media and the public at large will be able to un-freakout over the private insurance enrollment process once it’s no longer a notorious mess. That could have a big impact on the risk pool composition as well.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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