Obamacare Isn't the First Program to Have Opening Day Headaches

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 1:11 AM EDT

It's easy to get alarmed about the widely-reported problems with the Obamacare website. People can't log in; can't create accounts; and have to endure crashes and software failures once they do finally get on. It's a mess. And it's an embarrassing mess.

At the same time, it's easy to overreact. Today, Stephanie Mencimer reminds us of what it was like during the early days of the Massachusetts program that served as a template for Obamacare:

After the law went into effect in Massachusetts, state offices were totally overwhelmed by the number of people clamoring to sign up for insurance, or what the state's Medicaid director dubbed the "stress of success." Lost paperwork, computer glitches, confusion over who was eligible for what, and not enough staff to handle the workload meant that in those early days, consumers could wait several months after submitting an application to finally get coverage....In the first two months, only 18,000 of more than 200,000 potentially eligible people had successfully signed up through the connector, according to Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor who helped design the Massachusetts system and served on the Connector board.

....But guess what? Eventually the kinks got worked out and people got covered. Enrollment opened in October 2006, and by the deadline for getting mandatory coverage, July 1, 2007, the Boston Globe reported, 20,000 more people had signed up for insurance on the exchange than the state had expected—12,000 of them in just the two weeks before the deadline. Total enrollment went from 18,000 in December 2006 to 158,000 a year later, says Gruber.

Read the whole thing for more. None of this means that we should be dismissive about the technical problems with the exchanges. At the same time, most of the state programs are already working pretty well, and the federal program is slowly but surely getting better. There's still plenty of time to sign up; phone banks are accessible in addition to the website; and the navigator program is just starting to get underway. Within a few weeks, things will be working tolerably well and people will begin signing up in large numbers. By January 1, we'll likely have millions of satisfied customers signed up via the exchanges, and the early hiccups will be forgotten.

And look at the bright side: for all of Obamacare's problems, it's already working better than Congress. And unlike Congress, it's almost certain to get better.

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