Since the launch of HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1, there has been a lot of public head shaking and jaw dropping. Here is an ongoing scrapbook of some of the most memorable moments of the Obamacare drama.
Christmas with Pajama Boy
An ad designed to promote Obamacare to young people has become the laughing stock of Twitter. Critics are mercilessly mocking “Pajama Boy,” a twentysomething in one-piece pajamas who is featured in an ad that reads “Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance.” The ad debuted on the @BarackObama Twitter account on Dec. 17 with the question, “How do you plan to spend the cold days of December?” “Not looking like this,” @AlexandraCSmith tweeted back. It seems that the young people to whom the ad was targeted wouldn’t be caught dead in a flannel onesie. “Words are simply inadequate to describe the spiral galaxy sized [sic] suck of that tweet,” @MangyLover replied. The image went viral as users added their own satirical slogans to the ad and retweeted them. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey fired back with his own ad encouraging people to spend the holidays lending a helping hand, not sitting around in their PJs. “Get out of your pajamas, put on an apron, and get volunteering,” the ad read.
Red flags ignored
The top cybersecurity expert at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) refused to support the launch of HealthCare.gov due to major security threats that continue to persist, according to an interview released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Teresa Fryer, the chief information security officer at CMS, on Dec. 17 told the committee her team continues to find security issues that put user information at risk, directly contradicting Obama administration assurances. Fryer recommended against the site launch on Oct. 1 and refused to sign a document authorizing it. She told lawmakers two more security concerns were identified in November and December. On Nov. 6, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told Congress, “We discussed security as part of the overall operations on a regular basis with the operations team, but no one, I would say, suggested that the risks outweighed the importance of moving forward.”
The Obamacare programs designed to help people understand and apply for insurance lack good management and create a breeding ground for fraud, according to a congressional report. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report Dec. 16 stating that the Department of Health and Human Services’ poor management of the Navigator and Assister programs “induces fraudulent behavior and posts real threats to the safety of consumers’ personally identifiable information.” The report cited news stories of navigators who misinformed applicants and encouraged them to lie about their incomes. It also stated navigators were not properly screened or trained prior to employment.
The $27,000 YouTube videos
Erin McDonald’s musical statement to fellow young people that it’s “not about the money, money, money,” earned her a nice chunk of change from an Obamacare-sponsored video contest. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Dec. 2 that McDonald had won the grand prize in the Healthy Young America video contest. The contest received “more than 100 videos” made to encourage young people to sign up for Obamacare. Having healthy young people in the insurance risk pools is essential to keeping premiums from skyrocketing. The administration dished out $27,000 in prize money across three categories for the contest. So far, none of the submitted videos appear to have gone viral.
‘We’re all Obama people’
In late November, a director with Enroll America, a nonprofit group dedicated to signing up people for Obamacare, resigned over a data privacy scandal. The nonprofit Project Veritas caught Chris Tarango, Texas communications director for Enroll America, on a hidden camera saying he would “do whatever it [expletive] takes” to get private information about potential Obamacare enrollees. Tarango also talked on camera about Enroll America’s partisan connections, saying, “We’re all Obama people.”
No se habla healthcare
Another area of Obamacare that has experienced repeated delays is the Spanish version of HealthCare.gov. The site currently provides basic information, but still doesn't allow users to apply for insurance coverage online. In late November, the administration said it planned a quiet launch of the Spanish enrollment tools in early December. But as of Dec. 5, online enrollment was not available. The site directs Spanish speakers to enroll on the phone. It also tells them to sign up by Dec. 23 for coverage that begins Jan. 1.
Stress test failed
The day before HealthCare.gov was set to launch, a test with 1,100 simultaneous users caused a traffic jam. The public learned of the site’s poor pre-launch performance from internal government emails released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. About 8.6 million people visited the site in its first three days, causing slow page-loads, blank pages, and error messages.
‘A vacant building next to a Holiday Inn Express’
On launch day of HealthCare.gov, Shelley Dubois, a reporter for The Tennessean, attempted to sign up for insurance on the exchanges. After unsuccessfully trying to get insurance over the phone and the internet, she tried to get in-person help from a local healthcare navigator, a government-funded aid hired as part of Obamacare to help people enroll in plans. She went to an address given to her over the phone and found it was a vacant building next to a Holiday Inn Express. The story of her day-long wild goose chase became a popular example of the exchanges' failures.
Now serving No. 6
On Nov. 1 an internal memo from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) revealed to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that only six people of the millions of visitors to the site managed to successfully enroll in Obamacare through HealthCare.gov the first day it opened.
A hacker's dream
The day after HealthCare.gov opened, John McAfee, founder of the virus protection software company that bears his name, called the site a “hackers … dream” (see video clip below). Hackers can build look-alike sites to collect unsuspecting users’ information, and because the website redirects users to state-based insurance hubs, they might not realize they aren’t on a government site. “What idiot put this system out there and did not create a central depository?” McAfee asked Fox Business News host Neil Cavuto.
Obamacare between the sheets
With the government way behind in its sign-up goals, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education launched a “Thanks Obamacare!” ad campaign targeted to young people.
The “Got Insurance?” series of advertisements (which mimic the “Got Milk?” ad campaign) uses keg stands and casual sex to get the attention of twentysomethings.
One advertisement featured a leering woman standing next to a man and stating: “My insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”
Changing price tags
Back in mid-October, insurance companies began reporting how glitches with HealthCare.gov affected them. The site sent insurance companies forms with missing data fields, spouses reported as children, and other eligibility mishaps. The federal exchange isn’t the only one having problems. President Barack Obama touted Washington state single mother Jessica Sanford as a success story, getting a $169-per-month quote. It turns out, though, that Washington state under-quoted her by potentially hundreds, something it did to 8,000 others. She now can’t afford the coverage.
‘You lie because your premiums will be higher’
The conservative watchdog group Project Veritas caught Obamacare navigators on tape counseling applicants to understate their incomes on their insurance applications. “You lie because your premiums will be higher,” said a navigator in Irving, Texas. One navigator was fired and three were suspended after the video went public on Nov. 11.
Polls take a tumble
The American public has done more than roll its eyes at the Obamacare rollout. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Nov. 12, 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the Obama presidency—the worst Quinnipiac disapproval rating of his presidency. About 52 percent said the president is not honest or trustworthy. Nineteen percent said healthcare will get better under Obamacare, while 43 percent thought it will get worse.
Democrats abandon ship
With public ire over canceled insurance policies at a boiling point, Republicans in Congress put together a bill to roll back the changes. Worried Democrats reportedly met with Obama and told him, “If you don’t give us something by Friday” to fix the cancellation problem, many Democrats would vote for the House bill. Obama announced his quick-fix the next day, but 39 Democrats still voted for the bill when Friday came.
The deadline changes come as a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that backing for Obamacare continues to drop. On Nov. 22, a Kaiser poll showed support among Democrats for the healthcare law plunged from 70 percent to 55 percent between October and November.
On Nov. 14, Washington, D.C., insurance commissioner William P. White criticized the president’s decision to allow insurance companies to continue canceled policies. About 24 hours later, he was out of a job. Insurance companies spent millions to calculate prices based on discontinuing old insurance plans. As a result, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) said the new exception threatens to undermine the exchanges and lead to higher premiums. White issued a statement agreeing with the NAIC. “I was looking at it purely from the standpoint of the marketplace and what needed to be done. The mayor was looking at it from another standpoint,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
A work in progress
The financial management side of HealthCare.gov is still behind schedule, meaning as much as 40 percent of the functionality of the site hasn’t been built yet. Officials told Congress on Nov. 19 that it won’t be ready when insurance companies start billing consumers and the government Jan. 1. Developers abandoned that part of the project while scrambling to finish the consumer interface that notoriously crashed on launch day.