The Tale of the Terrible, Glitch-Filled Health Care Law Rollout

The Tale of the Terrible, Glitch-Filled Health Care Law Rollout:
Within a week of the new health care law coming into effect, the St. Petersburg Times was reporting that "After hearing about the elaborate network of options...Hugh Mabe had a simple response. 'I don't get it.' For the past week, many Citrus County residents have echoed Mabe's sentiment. Though enrollment began Tuesday, few potential beneficiaries have settled on a plan." Yes, it was confusing because it was so very new and different.

Of course, the computer glitches didn't help: "During the first few days of enrollment, people had trouble logging onto [the] website because of heavy traffic." Because of all the problems, less than a month after its rollout, at least one senator from the president's own party wrote to officials in charge of the website, saying, "I am writing to express my concern with serious problems brought to my attention relating website. [People] have reported that the pricing information of plans listed on the website is inaccurate and misleading...A discrepancy of thousands of dollars is more than just a 'glitch'...This sort of problem could greatly hinder successful implementation of the [new health care law] by undermining consumer confidence in the program."

A Democratic Congressman wrote to the president after a month into the sign-up to complain that "only 500,000 of 40 million eligible [people] have signed up so far. This low participation number is not surprising. After all, the fledgling program has been plagued by mishaps and misinformation." He was also frustrated that Congress was doing nothing to help fix the problems.

Things got so bad that even a governor who supported the law was frustrated that only "700 of the 100,000 applications [from his state] that have been submitted" had even been processed. He also noted that the Department of Health and Human Services promised that the "glitches" were fixed, even if users still had difficulties with the website. Among those glitches were "computer file transfers" that caused people to have to resubmit applications that were processed incorrectly.

Medical professionals were also upset with the program. "It's a nightmare," said one. "It will be a disaster" if the problems are not fixed, said another.

Let's just show the cards here. If you haven't figured it out, this is all about the sign-up period for what was the then-new Medicare prescription drug program, Part D. The "people" up there are actually senior citizens. The senator was Olympia Snowe of Maine, a Republican. The congressman was Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, who is now a senator. The governor was Richard Codey of New Jersey. The president was George W. Bush. The time period was from mid-October of 2005, which was the start of enrollment before the plan went into effect on January 1, 2006.

And on it went. "The system was certainly overwhelmed," said a spokesman for Walgreens on January 4, 2006 about the national computer network that his company's stores was using. Others reported ongoing glitches, using phrases like "mild chaos" and "a confusing nightmare." Computer issues caused thousands to lose whatever drug coverage they had. It got so bad that governors had to step in to make sure that seniors got their medications. To state it plainly, after the program started, the entire thing was seen as one giant glitch.  It wasn't until months later that the law was seen as starting to work as it was intended, except for the pesky doughnut hole in drug costs (which Obamacare fills).

This all was on top of the fact that, shortly after its passage as one of Bush's signature achievements, it was revealed that the $400 billion law would end up costing over $530 billion.

The bill was passed in December 2003. In November 2004, there was a vote to raise the debt ceiling. You know what didn't happen? The Democrats in the Senate didn't hold the debt ceiling hostage because the act was confusing and unpopular - remember, it passed the House only because of bribery and threats by Tom DeLay. They didn't try to undermine it or sabotage it. No, they tried to make it better, with Republicans refusing to do so.

Senator Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat from Arkansas, tried to fix things in December 2005. She said that "all of the problems that have occurred could have been avoided if Republicans had not blocked a crucial amendment she cosponsored during federal budget debates last month. Lincoln's bill would have added six months to the transition period to ensure that pharmacists are reimbursed under Medicaid until each eligible senior is assigned to a new drug plan under Medicare. Her amendment was uniformly opposed by Republicans in the Finance Committee and during budget debates on the Senate floor last month." It failed because Republicans didn't want to delay the law.

Now, you want the real kick in the teeth? Defending the administration in those early days of the law's implementation was then-Representative Roy Blunt, Republican from Missouri. He acknowledged the problems with the sign-up, and he noted, "Remember: when Medicare started in 1965 there were reports of confusion, patients and doctors didn't understand the new program and seniors were complaining that hey had not received their new Medicare cards. Sounds familiar."

Yeah, it sure does.

And this isn't even ancient history.