Poll: Few Americans Say Obamacare Rollout Went Smoothly

Question

A poll conducted by the Associated Press and GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications showed that just 7 percent of Americans surveyed thought that the implementation of the cornerstone provision of the Affordable Care Act, the individual insurance exchanges, had gone “extremely or very” well. Comparatively, 40 percent said the launch of the marketplaces had not gone well, 20 percent said it had gone somewhat well, and 30 percent did not know what to say. When only those Americans who supported the health care reform were asked their opinion, the approval number was not much better — just 19 percent said the rollout had gone “extremely or very” well.

Among the uninsured, a key demographic for the success of the health care reform, 42 percent responded that they did not know enough about the exchanges to say how well the rollout had gone.

In response to the survey, 60-year-old George Spinner, a retired government worker from Virginia, explained that his enrollment efforts were stymied after he managed to create an online account. It kept telling me there was an error,” he said. Reynol Rodriguez, a computer technician from San Antonio, responded that technical issues prevented him from signing up. “I was very much looking forward to it,” said 51-year-old Rodriguez, 51. “That’s what this country needs – affordable health care.” But he will continue trying.

As for Count Janice Brown, a semi-retired travel agent from California, her experience was much more positive. After some initial trouble on Covered California, the state’s exchange, she said she was able to purchase a plan for $1,000 less than her current private plan. “I’m thrilled,” Brown said in her response to the survey. “The coverage is better. It’s fantastic.”

Technical glitches marred the opening week of the insurance exchanges. Healthcare.gov, the web portal that links customers to the online marketplaces for the 36 states that defaulted to federally-facilitated exchanges rather than creating their own, was especially affected. The hours of waiting, the backlog of potential enrollees, the problems calculating subsidies, and the numerous error messages that characterized the first week of enrollment was a sign for Obamacare opponents that the health care reform was the proverbial train wreck that many lawmakers had promised. And it is true that at the most basic level the insurance exchanges have to work for them to be successful, meaning exchange enrollees to shop must be able to shop for coverage on the exchanges free from technical glitches (or at least, overwhelming technical glitches that could discourage them from purchasing plans).

As President Barack Obama noted months ago, glitches are a normal part of the rollout of any large government program, and administration officials have more often than not chalked up the technical problems with the federally-facilitated exchanges to overwhelming demand. “Our top issue when it comes to the glitches has been the extraordinary number of people coming to check out plans and find out more about Obamacare. The number has obviously exceeded expectations,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a news briefing earlier this week.

Still, the numbers show that Americans are trying out the exchanges; 7 percent of Americans reported that somebody in their household has tried to sign up for insurance through the health care exchanges, according to the poll. That figure is admittedly a small percentage, but it does translate to more than 20 million people. But of course, around three-quarters of those 20 million who attempted to enroll reported problems with the system, and the high number of problems are reflected in the poor reviews.

The AP’s survey offered a different view of the early days of the marketplaces existence than the one given by the Obama administration, which has announced that healthcare.gov had millions of unique visitors. However, how many of those visitors enrolled and purchased policies will not be announced until November.

Earlier in the year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that about 7 million uninsured Americans enroll via the exchanges next year, a small fraction of the 48 million Americans that lacked coverage in 2012.

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