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Epic fail: just 1 percent of Obamacare requests successfully processed

Published time: October 07, 2013 19:53
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (3rd R) and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (3rd L) lead a rally to celebrate the start of the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (3rd R) and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (3rd L) lead a rally to celebrate the start of the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

Millions of Americans visited newly launched websites last week to learn more about the benefits offered through the president’s health insurance mandate, but Obamacare is apparently not ready for everyone.

Americans officially became able to sign up for insurance coverage provided through President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act program Tuesday morning, but a number of issues have impacted the amount of people who are actually able to sign up for so-called Obamacare.

Heavy traffic early in the week caused many of the websites to reportedly crash, but complications are continuing to plague some pages. A report conducted by CNBC suggests that as few as one percent of those online applications were actually submitted correctly.

As few as 1 in 100 applications on the federal exchange contains enough information to enroll the applicant in a plan,” CNBC health care reporter Dan Mangan wrote Friday.

According to several insurance industry sources who spoke to CNBC during the first week of Obamacare’s roll-out, a number of complications are causing the vast majority of submitted applications to be absent of the information necessary to implement coverage.

But while user error would presumably be the main culprit, some experts are saying the websites established to register Americans for the president’s health care plan were brimming with internal problems.

"It is extraordinary that these systems weren't ready," Sumit Nijhawan, CEO of Infogix, told CNBC.

According to Nijhawan, whose company handles data processing for insurers such as WellPoint and Cigna, there will be a “public relations nightmare” if the Obama administration can’t correct the issues that are complicating the sign-up process. If a large number of people wrongly believe they have new insurance when it officially goes into effect in January, he said, the response could be damaging for the White House.

"One hundred people submit their application, one of them goes all the way through the processing ... a big chunk of them are being held," Infogix Chief Product Officer Bobby Koritala added to CNBC. "They need to get more clarifying information."

Dan Mendelson, the CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health, added to Mangang’s report that he wasn’t surprised by the 1-in-100 rate cited by Nijhawan.

"This is not a traffic issue," Mendelson said. "Right now, the systems aren't working."

Dan Schuyler, director of the consultancy Leavitt Partners, added that "If we continue to see these issues through the next three or four weeks there's a lot of concern about how many people will have effective coverage by Jan. 1.”

According to the New York Times, around 8.6 million people visited the new Obamacare websites last week. Before long, however, the Department of Health and Human Services had to take the website down during off-leak hours in order to provide "significant improvements in the online consumer experience."

"We have built a dynamic system and are prepared to make adjustments as needed and improve the consumer experience," HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in a statement.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the second-highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, said in a statement of his own that "Americans have seen once again that Obamacare is not ready for prime time.”

"We have been warned time and time again that ObamaCare is not ready for prime time," independently added Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas). "Well, it turns out that is right."

Republican efforts to stall Obamacare largely led to the government shutdown that started last Tuesday morning. GOP members of the House opposed approving any budget that funds the health insurance program, but Obamacare rolled out regardless early Tuesday just as hundreds of thousands of federal workers became furloughed over Congress’ failure to pass a spending bill.

According to the White House, healthcare.gov was visited by one million unique visitors within hours of its launch last week. Americans have until Dec. 15 to enroll in the president’s health insurance plan.

"In the first week, first month, first three months, I would suspect that there will be glitches," Pres. Obama told NPR recently. "This is 50 states, a lot of people, signing up for something. And there are gonna be problems."