It might be hard to believe, but today marks the two-month anniversary of Obamacare's state and federally run health exchanges going live -- and what a two months it's been!
Some select state-run exchanges have performed well while others, including federally run Healthcare.gov, have become the talking point of every late-night comedy act. The dynamic of Obamacare, and even the health exchanges, seems to change on a week-to-week basis based on enrollment progress and how successful IT-technicians are at dealing with the multiple technical glitches.
With these ongoing changes in mind, here are the 10 Obamacare facts that really matter after two months.
1. The Healthcare.gov fix is on track.
We know there have been a seemingly insurmountable number of glitches with Healthcare.gov, but amazingly enough, the fixes that were intended to be completed by the end of November are "on track," according to government officials. If you recall, the government turned to the assistance of Red Hat and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), whose middleware prowess was to be used to determine why specific systems weren't cooperating with one another, as well as Google, whose ability to write and diagnose global code is practically unmatched. We haven't heard a lot from these companies or the government as to what was actually discovered to be wrong with Healthcare.gov, but it appears that a majority of Americans will be able to use it without major glitches sometime this week.
2. Delays are mounting.
Because it took two full months to fix Healthcare.gov and bring it online for the majority of residents in 36 states, multiple deadlines were pushed out, which are threatening the enforceability of the law itself. In July, the employer mandate start date was pushed back a full year to Jan. 1, 2015, arguably because the technology wasn't in place to accommodate business enrollment as well, although White House officials contended the move was being made to allow businesses extra time to comply with the law. More recently, the coverage cutoff date to receive health insurance coverage by Jan. 1, 2014, was bumped back eight days to Dec. 23 from Dec. 15, and the open enrollment period for next year was moved back by an entire month from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15 to give insurers more time to analyze and establish fair market rates. In sum, the more delays we see, the more Obamacare's credibility gets called into question.
3. Just 106,185 people fully enrolled within the first 33 days.
Official enrollment has been dismal thus far, with the Department of Health and Human Services reporting that a meager 106,185 people signed up for health insurance between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2. Worse yet, just 26,794 of those people signed up using Healthcare.gov despite officials reporting that 19 million people had visited the website since its launch. As of the latest tally, California, Washington, and New York were among the three state-run exchanges that were delivering the greatest success rate in terms of cumulative sign-ups.
4. 4.8 million health insurance policies could be cancelled.
Here's a stunning statistic: For each new enrollee in Obamacare (through Nov. 2), there are 48 people who will be receiving a notice of imminent insurance cancellation, according to Forbes. When lawmakers crafted Obamacare, it was designed to have a considerably more encompassing minimum benefits plan than any preceding minimum coverage policy. This meant that select lower-cost plans that Americans previously purchased (in this case nearly 5 million Americans) wouldn't meet the more stringent benefit mandate of Obamacare and would be cancelled. President Obama himself has suggested a temporary remedy to these cancellations by allowing insurers to keep members on what would otherwise be cancellable plans through 2014, but it has to be approved on a state-by-state basis.
5. Quality Software Services is ultimately in charge.
Americans would love to point the finger of blame or give praise to President Obama or either of the political parties throughout this process, but the only business worthy of criticism or praise from this point on is UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) subsidiary, Quality Software Services, or QSSI. QSSI was put in charge of the oversight of Healthcare.gov in late October, and that move appear to be working well with the aforementioned website fixes remaining on schedule.
6. Verizon has been kicked to the curb.
Given the numerous glitches associated with Healthcare.gov, we knew that there was a strong possibility that a select number of contractors could be replaced. According to a Bloomberg report on Thursday, which was based on word from an unnamed HHS official, Verizon's (NYSE:VZ) Terremark data services hub is going to be replaced when its contract is up in March by Hewlett-Packard. Terremark's data services hub went offline twice in October, and in one of those instances it caused another critical Obamacare service to go offline as well. The lost contract won't be a huge blow to Verizon, but it does signal that unreliable contractors will no longer be tolerated.
7. Nearly 1 million people completed their initial application within the first 33 days.
Although the first two months represented something of a nightmare for many Americans, the HHS, and the White House, it wasn't all bad news. Even though just 106,185 people completed their enrollment, 975,407 Americans completed their application and identification process to determine their eligibility for subsidies such as Medicaid. In other words, nearly 1 million people went through the somewhat laborious identification process, but 89% did not select a plan as of yet. I wouldn't classify this as a failure so much as Americans who simply want to wait to the last minute to pay an insurance premium. Chances are high that the majority of these 975,000-plus people wouldn't go through this process if they didn't intend to eventually sign up.
8. Private exchange membership is soaring.
Just as we saw when we examined Obamacare last month, private exchanges for both individuals, families, and small businesses, such as eHealth (NASDAQ:EHTH) are cleaning up -- but so are private platform exchanges built for larger corporate clients like Aon (NYSE:AON) unit Aon Hewitt. With small businesses and employers unable to access Healthcare.gov until later in 2014, it's created the perfect scenario for individuals to bypass the headache of Healthcare.gov altogether by moving to eHealth's private platform and for businesses to cut health-care costs and time by providing a subsidy to employees and allowing them to search for their own health insurance on Aon Hewitt's corporate health exchange. With eHealth's membership up 24% in its most recent quarter and Aon securing 18 companies with 5,000 or more employees, I'd say private platform insurers are doing very well for themselves.
9. The majority of people think Obamacare's problems are fixable.
Last month, in spite of Obamacare's numerous glitches, sentiment toward Obamacare actually improved, according to an aggregated poll by The Huffington Post. While this month's poll from CNN/ORC International demonstrates that favorability toward the law remains relatively unchanged from the previous month, a majority of Americans polled -- 54%, to be exact -- believe that Obamacare's flaws are fixable, compared with just 45% who believe they aren't. In other words, even though just 40% in CNN's poll favored the new health-care law, a majority believes that Obamacare will be able to move forward as a law.
10. The individual mandate still isn't going anywhere.
Finally, as a bit of a repeat from last month but a point that remains true after two months as well, the individual mandate, also known as the actionable part of Obamacare that requires individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty come tax time, remains well intact without any fear of delay. Being the enforceable component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama and HHS officials understand that this portion of the law must remain set in stone if Obamacare's credibility is to remain intact.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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