The discovery of a legitimate problem with the Connect for Health Colorado health insurance marketplace by 9NEWS' Brandon Rittiman, a glitch that has apparently resulted in some 3,600 policyholders not having their health insurance renewed for this year, has become the latest issue with the Affordable Care Act's implementation in Colorado to send Republicans into a frenzy and Democrats scrambling for talking points:
As many as 3,600 health insurance plans that should have automatically renewed this year were canceled because of a design flaw with Connect for Health Colorado, the official state exchange designed to implement the Affordable Care Act.
9NEWS was first to expose the issue last week and now the exchange says it will pro-actively find customers affected and help them re-instate coverage retroactively…
An official Connect for Health training video, uploaded to YouTube on September 9 of last year, informed the audience that customers could inadvertently cancel renewal of their plans by shopping for a potential alternative for 2015.
"If you put a different plan in their cart on October 16, that is going to turn off any auto-renewal of the plan that was indicated in their renewal notice," instructed Kyla Hoskins, Manager of Policy and External Affairs for Connect for Health, in the training video.
There have been legitimate complaints ever since the rollout of the Connect for Health Colorado exchange website that the process for obtaining health insurance is–assuming the website is functioning properly, which it usually is now–not intuitive or friendly, either for customers or those helping them. That the exchange has nonetheless successfully enrolled so many people in Colorado is testament to the overwhelming demand for affordable healthcare. The issue identified with the exchange website in this story, which was apparently considered a "feature" and not a "bug" prior to being identified as a major problem, is a perfect example of the customer service failures the exchange has grappled with–and been, to some extent, properly criticized for. We'll add that Connect for Health's initial response to inquiries from 9NEWS about the problem, essentially dismissing it as user error, will not go down in history as a model of crisis communications.
With that said, news reporting today about the "window shopping glitch" in Colorado's insurance exchange website contains assurances by all involved that every one of these policyholders will have their coverage reinstated retroactively. This roughly 5% of renewing policyholders got treated to another fine example of technological and bureaucratic faceplanting, but at the end of the day, they'll be made whole. The fact is, Brandon Rittiman's reporting was critical to a successful outcome: not least for the 3,600 policyholders who appear to have needed a media spotlight on the problem in order for it to be acknowledged as a problem.
One of the biggest internal dilemmas that Democrats face today is a reflexive defensiveness brought on by years of irrational arguments with the far right. The need to defend major reforms like the Affordable Care Act from an onslaught of hyperbolic bullshit has left some Democrats unable to confront legitimate issues that need fixing. There are signs that this is changing: legislation in the Colorado legislature to tighten oversight of Connect for Health Colorado is passing with bipartisan support. Republicans want to go much, much farther than oversight, of course, and will hype this story out of all earthly proportion to support their contention that the insurance exchange and the rest of Obamacare should simply be repealed.
But that's not what the public wants. Even as they give Obamacare low marks in polling, the same polls show the public wants health care reform to work. For Democrats, the way to prevail is to share the concern of Republicans when glitches happen–but stand firm when they try to throw the baby out with the bathwater.