The Conversation

Healthcare.gov's 'Drop Dead' Date Is Upon Us

Way back on October 21st, when the White House was still optimistic that problems with healthcare.gov would be fixed relatively quickly, the Washington Post explained that the administration still had weeks to get this right. In fact, the drop dead date was still way off at Thanksgiving:

There's a point where not having a functional Web portal actually does interfere with consumers' ability to gain coverage through the marketplace.

I've spent most of Monday talking to experts about when, exactly, that happens and, perhaps more importantly, why it matters. Most of them point to sometime around mid-November, or even Thanksgiving, as the crucial moment where the health insurance marketplace needs to be working.

"It seems to me if you don't have a Web site that is close to fully functional by sometime in the latter half of November, that's problematic," says Joel Ario, a consultant who previously oversaw exchanges at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

"What I have been saying is that getting this fixed by mid-November gives people plenty of time to enroll," Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, says. "You really have no meaningful impact on January 1 if you're up and running by November."

Here we are with just days left in November and the White House is asking its allies to avoid directing people to Healthcare.gov on December 1st. There's no outright admission of failure from the White House but I think that's what you'd call a sign. People who want the law to succeed set a generous deadline and the administration is going to miss it.

So what happens if Healthcare.gov doesn't meet the "drop dead" date (i.e. Thanksgiving)? The Post's experts envisioned three negative outcomes of failing to meet the date: Decreased enrollment, a sicker risk pool resulting in higher premiums next year and, finally, people in danger of being fined for not having insurance they can't buy.

In case you missed it, earlier this week Ezra Klein has walked back the enrollment goal saying the 7 million estimate by CBO was only an "estimate" which "should be thrown out entirely." So prediction one is a done deal They're not going to meet the goal.

As for the composition of the risk pool, that's looking bad too though no one at Wonkblog has said so yet. In fact, the position they've taken seems to be that states with working websites, such as California and Kentucky, are succeeding. In fact, neither state is even close in terms of enrollment numbers or the percentage of young enrollees. That could change of course but right now they have a lot of ground to make up.

Finally, will all of the five million people who lost insurance this year get some replacement via the exchange before December 23rd? It's too early to say but the White House should probably be ready for some more angry people making news on January 1st.


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