By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
It’s been a full week since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, yet New Mexico Watchdog — like millions of Americans and doubtless thousands in New Mexico— is still unable to create an account on www.healthcare.gov.
Tuesday morning, for the third time since the rollout began Oct. 1, N.M. Watchdog failed to get beyond answering security questions on the website, much less learn details of what kind of health-care plans are offered and make price comparisons.
One percent of applications, according to some reports, have so far passed from www.healthcare.gov to insurers because they contained enough accurate information to proceed with enrollment. Asked Sunday how many Americans have signed up, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew refused to disclose a number.
Over the weekend, the Obama administration said it was shutting down the site to fix the glitches that popped up across the country.
NM Watchdog saw no difference Tuesday. We got past the security questions but, once again, we were thwarted when this page popped up:
We clicked on the “Return to Create Account Page” and repeated the sign-in process, but to avail.
Obama administration officials have blamed the website’s problems on volume. About 2.8 million people visited the federal website on its first day, said Marilyn Tavenner, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The site is handling individual health care inquiries for 36 states, including New Mexico.
“It is extraordinary that these systems weren’t ready,” Sumit Nijhawan, CEO of Infogix, which handles data integrity issues for major insurers including WellPoint and Cigna — as well as multiple Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates — told CNBC on Friday.
It’s hard to tell why www.healthcare.gov has so many problems.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw development of the site, hasn’t made technology experts available for interviews.
Five IT experts interviewed by Reuters surmised the problem probably has more to do with the site’s architecture than traffic alone.
“Adding capacity sounds great until you realize that if you didn’t design it right, that won’t help,” said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm. “The architecture of the software may limit how much you can add on to it. I suspect they’ll have to reconfigure a lot of it.”
The New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange handles accounts for small businesses looking to cover their employees; people looking for coverage — or simply looking to compare coverage plans — are sent to the www.healthcare.gov site.
NMHIX officials say their statewide website for small businesses is working smoothly. Interim NMIX CEO Mike Nunez told New Mexico Watchdog that, as of Tuesday morning, 524 small businesses and 1,074 employees of those businesses had signed up to buy insurance through the online marketplace.
“We’re moving along,” Nunez said. “We’ve had no problems with access and volume issues.”
But the glitches on the federal government’s website, which preempt people from signing up in New Mexico, is a major concern.
“Everyone across the country is frustrated that we can’t do the work we need to do,” said Nunez, who said his office is checking with the federal government every day, but “there’s no clear timeline” as to when the problems will be resolved.
While the feds will handle individual policies for the rest of this year and all of 2014, NMHIX consumer advocate Dr. Deane Waldman emphasized NMHIX will take over individual enrollment in 2015.
“I’m really fearful that even though (the computer glitches are) the feds’ problem, that we’ll get the blame,” Waldman told New Mexico Watchdog. “I am very hopeful and confident that a year from now — at least for New Mexicans — when (the NMIX runs things) that problem will no longer exist.”
Obama officials say the www.healthcare.gov site has time to work out the problems, as individual policies don’t kick in until Jan. 1.
But the technical problems may frustrate and keep away potential customers — especially young people between the ages of 18 and 34, the so-called “Young Invincibles” so crucial to the health care exchanges becoming fiscally solvent.
“That’s correct,” Nunez said. “We don’t want to miss anyone.”
“We are, hopefully, by September or October of next year going to advertise the user friendliness (of the NMIX site for individual policies) to that particular demographic,” Waldman said. “We need to get college students, young people looking for jobs, who are 24, 26, 28 years old … At this point, all I can say is, ‘Sorry, but next year we’ll take care of you.’ ”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
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