In this photo taken Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, self-employed photographer Michael Weaver works the sidelines of a high school football game in Jerseyville, Ill. It took him about a week and a half, but Weaver kept going back to the healthcare.gov website until he opened an account and applied for a tax credit that will reduce his health care premiums. “We need to stop the arguing and move forward to make it work,” he says. In his mid-50s, with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, but otherwise good health, Weaver said those conditions made it hard for him to get coverage previously. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
by Sally Kohn
(CNN) — You know what’s relatively easy? Fixing a website. You know what’s really hard? Ensuring access to affordable, quality health insurance for every single American and improving our broken health care system in the process. In the back-and-forth about the Obamacare exchange websites, let’s not lose sight of the ultimate goal of health care reform — a goal that, even with the exchanges problems, we are steadily achieving.
Less than 17 days into the signup period, the State of Oregon had already enrolled 56,000 people under the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare — and reduced the state’s percentage of uninsured by 10%. In New York, over 150,000 people have signed up for a private insurance plan through the state’s exchange website — including, by the way, me. In Kentucky, a state that has more than 640,000 residents without health insurance, the state insurance exchange is signing up 1,000 people per day, “a great rate and a great success so far” says Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
In Washington State, 31,000 people have enrolled in Medicaid coverage, 4,500 have enrolled in private health plans and an additional 56,000 state residents have completed applications. Other states, especially those that worked to implement their own insurance exchanges and expand Medicaid under the health reform law, are seeing similar success — contrasted with those states that have, mainly for ideological reasons, sabotaged implementation.
And even still, the increased access to insurance through private market exchanges and Medicaid expansion is only one aspect of the larger reform law.
Already, 3.4 million young Americans have been able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. Already, millions of Americans have benefited from the ban on insurance companies denying coverage because of preexisting conditions, a ban that will take full effect next year. Already, we’re all benefiting from the law ending lifetime and annual limits on the amount of coverage health insurance provides, and ending the practice of insurance companies’ arbitrarily canceling coverage in the wake of catastrophic illness.
The Obamacare exchange websites can run fast as lightning or slow as molasses but, regardless, these reforms are already helping millions of Americans automatically. No hitting reset required.
It’s also helpful to put the exchange websites into some perspective. We’re a little over one-tenth of the way through the current enrollment period. People have until December 15 to complete their applications if they want coverage to begin on January 1, 2014. And then we all have until February 15, 2014 to enroll in private insurance coverage before being subject to the individual mandate penalty.
According to psychology studies, 20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators. At least 95% of Americans say they procrastinate regularly. Plus, to be clear, picking among multiple health insurance options is a bit more complicated than buying a new T-shirt. So if millions of Americans are waiting until the last second to enroll in Obamacare, we shouldn’t just chalk that up to the law’s failure or website problems but to inevitable human nature. The good news is, by the time most people seeking insurance get around to enrolling, whether by December 15 or February 15, the website kinks will undoubtedly have long been ironed out.
eBay wasn’t built in a day. And neither was any major government initiative. From Social Security to Medicare to the Peace Corps to the income tax, other significant government programs were initially as overrun with snafus as they were with critiques. But eventually, employers figured out how to include workers’ names and Social Security numbers in their earnings reports and the website for Medicare Part D was successfully debugged.
A few geeks locked in a room with a case of Mountain Dew will fix the Obamacare websites. But all the computer programmers and pundits and conservative nay-sayers in the land couldn’t fix the fact that, three years ago, our health care costs were skyrocketing, tens of millions of Americans lacked health insurance and 14,000 more were losing their coverage every day.
We needed a law to fix that. Thankfully, we now have one. And whatever the ups and downs of the websites, the Affordable Care Act is working.
Editor’s note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter at @sallykohn