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


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.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.