Obamacare: It’s in Trouble, But the Fat Lady Hasn’t Sung Yet

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I’ve been reading a lot about the problems with the Obamacare website over the past week, but I haven’t commented much about it lately. That’s largely because there’s a huge fire hose of reports coming in, some of them contradictory, and it’s really hard to make any concrete sense out of them. But here’s where I am right now. No links to specific reports, just my sort of holistic feel for what’s going on:

  • Take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Most of it—both good and bad—is coming from people who don’t have direct, first-hand experience with the code.
  • That said, the problems are obviously pretty severe. Don’t let wishful thinking persuade you otherwise.
  • Throwing programmers at the problem isn’t likely to help. It takes months to get up to speed on a big piece of software, and you can’t contribute fixes until you’ve done that. Like it or not, the website is going to get fixed by roughly the same team that wrote it in the first place.
  • Things do seem to be improving a bit. This is a hopeful sign because it suggests that the problems aren’t entirely intractable. It’s possible that fixes to half a dozen key pieces of code could get the system hobbling along.
  • Phones and paper forms aren’t a panacea, but we should all keep in mind that, in a pinch, they’ll do the job. As recently as a decade ago, that’s all we would have had, and it would have worked OK.
  • This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, so don’t panic. Not yet, anyway.

I hate to say this because I know it’s so typically Drummish, but the evidence so far suggests to me that we saw an underreaction during the first couple of weeks of October (probably shutdown related) followed by an overreaction now. Everybody is piling on based on news reports that offer up a steady stream of worrying tidbits. But that’s no better than pretending everything is OK. Right now, most of us are still in the dark about what’s truly wrong with the system. None of us should pretend to know more than we do.

That said, the reaction to Obamacare’s problems really doesn’t matter much. Within a few weeks, either the website will work or it won’t. If it works, everyone will forget about the late-October panic fest. If it doesn’t, Obamacare is screwed. The reality on the ground, not the spin, is all that matters now.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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