By Marc A. Thiessen
The Washington Post
Like most Americans, members and staff on Capitol Hill have been tied in knots trying to sign up for Obamacare. The D.C. exchange has been crashing, sending error messages and creating multiple applications — leaving senators and aides unsure whether they actually managed to get coverage.
But unlike most Americans, they don’t have to worry or wait.
They can just ask the Oracle.
Last Thursday, a Democratic staffer sent an e-mail alerting colleagues to her existence. “There is a woman in Hart [Senate Office Building] 216 who will tell you if your health care application went through. Takes about 30 seconds,” the staffer wrote. “They call her the Oracle.”
Apparently, the Oracle moves around, and Senate aides track her movements by e-mail. “Moved to SVC-201 today,” one message declared Friday, adding, “We are told she never stays in one place for more than 24 hrs.” Another advised, “On Monday, the Oracle will be in Dirksen room G50!”
While the Oracle may be telling congressional staff whether they will have health insurance on Jan. 1, the rest of America is not so lucky. In a late Friday bad-news dump, the Obama administration admitted last week that 25 percent of applications on the federal Obamacare Web site in October and November had errors. The Post reported, “In some instances, the system was not sending insurers records of people who had enrolled. Other errors have included duplicative enrollment and cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members and mistakes involving federal subsidies.”
What this means is one in four Americans who think they signed up for Obamacare through HealthCare.gov may not actually have signed up at all.
Even after re-launching the Web site last week and assuring Americans that it was working with “private-sector velocity and effectiveness,” the Obama administration now admits that the system continues to mess up one in 10 applications. Since the volume of people trying to sign up will likely grow each day as the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll for Jan. 1 coverage approaches, a significant number could be in for a rude New Year’s awakening when they learn that they are uninsured. At least when Americans could not access Obamacare on the Web, they knew they had no insurance. Now many think they have signed up for health coverage but really have not.
The same problem appears to be happening in the state exchanges, as well. Insurers in Minnesota recently complained to state exchange officials, “At this late date, the health plan companies do not have most of the names or information on individuals who have enrolled through MNsure.” The state exchanges in Hawaii and Maryland have been such a disaster that their directors have both resigned. In Washington state, the exchange has been giving thousands of people incorrect subsidy data. Insurers in New York and Kentucky (held up as model exchanges) have also reported receiving erroneous data similar to that coming from the federal Web site.
In other words, Jan. 1 is going to be a train wreck for many Americans.
How will the Obama administration fix this impending disaster before the end of the year? Apparently, the plan is for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to send insurers a list on Dec. 23 of all the people who signed up in December. Insurers will then have to check that government list against their own roster of customers — many by hand. They will have eight days to identify and correct all the enrollment errors.
Keep in mind that millions of Americans have lost their insurance because of Obamacare and need to be enrolled before the new year to avoid gaps in coverage. It will be nearly impossible for insurers to process all those new applications in eight days, much less find and fix the mistakes generated by the federal and state exchanges, which means it is probable that many Americans may not learn whether they are insured until well after Jan. 1.
Indeed, there is a growing possibility that there will be more uninsured Americans at the start of the new year than there were before the launch of Obamacare.
How will Americans know whether that nightmare came to pass? For many, it could be when they try to visit their doctor or hospital next year — and find out they are not covered after all.
Too bad they can’t ask the Oracle.