On October 1, health insurance exchanges opened across America. As expected, a number of difficulties arose: software malfunctions, website crashes and perhaps most spectacularly, the threat of a government shutdown. However, the opening of state marketplaces also brought plenty of good signs for the future of insurance in the U.S. – many online marketplaces functioned properly, and saw promising numbers of new insurance consumers.
In Rhode Island, for example, a woman named Leslie Peters was one of the first American citizens to enroll with her state health insurance exchange – and she had only good things to say about Obamacare. Speaking with Kaiser Health News, Peters explained her excitement at being able to buy an insurance plan through an easy-to-use online shopping platform, wherein she could compare a number of plans and see what federal subsidies she would be entitled to. Peters, recently unemployed, had not previously purchased health insurance due to pre-existing health conditions which prevented her from finding a reasonably priced plan. With Obamacare, however, insurers are barred from discriminating against customers based on pre-existing conditions, and so Peters was finally able to find affordable coverage.
Other supporters of Obamacare have likewise greeted the opening of state insurance marketplaces with jubilance. Insurance workers and other spokespeople have said that by shopping for coverage on an exchange, consumers can finally see for themselves that they no longer have to answer questions about pre-existing conditions – such as allergies, asthma or diabetes – in order to find an insurance plan. Most importantly, a customer’s quoted insurance rate cannot be based upon the existence of such conditions, meaning that many Americans will for the first time have the opportunity to buy health insurance they can afford.
Of course, along with these stories of satisfied customers has come media coverage about Obamacare opponents and their intense anger over the opening of state marketplaces. In the senate, Republican senators have refused to pass a federal budget; saying that they would not approve of any budget that included funding for Obamacare. The health law, passed in 2010, has so far survived more than 40 attempts to repeal or defund it. At the moment, Republicans have tied monetary negotiations to the ACA; a tactic which some, including President Obama, have likened to holding America ransom in hopes of damaging the health insurance law.
This government shutdown seems likely to continue until either Democrats agree to partially defund Obamacare, or Republicans agree to a budget that leaves the health law intact. In the meantime, around 800,000 federal workers are on unpaid leave from their jobs. As pointed out by news corporation Al Jazeera, the government shutdown is leading to a huge amount of side effects which many Americans may be unaware of: the delay of cancer treatment for children at the National Cancer Institute; closure of national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, which will lead to major losses in tourism revenues; and a backlog in Medicare payments that is affecting both patients and health care workers.
Clearly, Obama’s signature health law has brought out partisan tensions in government. Amongst average Americans, complaints about the ACA have largely concerned the technological difficulties of using the newly-opened online insurance exchanges. At www.healthcare.gov, the federal health insurance marketplace for residents of states that opted to not create their own state exchange, site delays and crashes have been common this week. With 4.7 million people attempting to access that website in just 24 hours, the federal exchange has been overloaded and unable to properly perform. Some site visitors were able to enroll and create an account, others even managed to have a look at available insurance plans, but others could do little more than create a user name and password.
In states that chose to create their own insurance exchange, rather than using the federal option, online marketplaces functioned a bit better. In Oregon, for example, residents have been able to input personal details, find out how much financial aid they are entitled to, and explore insurance options. Oregon already announced last month that the site wouldn’t be ready for insurance purchases until November, but residents are able to enroll on the exchange and receive notification by email when it’s possible to buy a plan.
The Affordable Care Act states that starting in January, 2014, every American must hold a health insurance plan. During the coming months, it is therefore crucial that web developers and consumer advocates fix current website glitches and make sure anyone without insurance has the chance to buy a policy. In the meantime, politicians in Washington must agree on a budget, and soon. Republicans are correct in their thinking that many Americans oppose Obamacare, but at the same time, 4.7 million people queued up to shop on the federal government’s health insurance exchange, and that was just on day one. Overloaded online marketplaces demonstrate the need for more proficient technology, but also the fact that a great many Americans, perhaps many more than expected, are actually quite eager to buy health insurance through Obamacare.