by J. D. Heyes
In mid-October, Forbes’ Avik Roy, who has been writing regularly about the pitfalls and expected pitfalls of Obamacare, made a rather startling claim.
“A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing,” he wrote. “Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.”
In other words, he was saying that the Healthcare.gov website was designed to hide the true cost of insurance plans.
Roy’s story got some traction, but it largely went unnoticed. Now, however, thanks to information surprisingly uncovered by CBS News, it appears that Roy’s story was prophetic:
CBS News has uncovered a serious pricing problem with HealthCare.gov. It stems from the Obama administration’s efforts to improve its health care website. A new online feature can dramatically underestimate the cost of insurance.
So much for ‘shop and browse’
Now, the latter report is being much more generous to the administration than it probably deserves – that this so-called pricing error is merely the result of harmless glitches stemming from good-faith efforts by this hapless government to fix the glitch-prone and virtually unusable federal exchange site.
But what is clear is this: There is a concerted effort to keep Americans from learning what the actual costs of plans are going to be under Obamacare.
Furthermore, as reported by CBS News:
The administration announced it would provide a new “shop and browse” feature… but it’s not giving consumers the real picture. In some cases, people could end up paying double of what they see on the website, CBS News’ Jan Crawford reported Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.”
President Obama, who has feigned shock and anger over a website that he and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knew for months was broken but which he demanded be launched anyway, has “vowed” to fix the struggling online exchange. In particular, administration officials are already crowing about what they are calling “improvements” in the site’s design, in particular, a feature that supposedly allows you to “See Plans Now.”
White House mouthpiece Jay Carney has even said that “Americans across the country can type in their zip code and shop and browse.”
“But,” CBS News reported, “the new ‘shop and browse’ feature often comes with the wrong price tags.”
In addition, health insurance industry analysts note there are only two broad age categories: 49 or younger and 50 and older.
And consider that the exchange’s success depends on enrolling a large number of young, healthy people, to pay for those who are older, sicker and with chronic, pre-existing conditions.
Get ready for sticker shock
That means that the younger crowd – many of whom don’t have health insurance, because they figure they’re so young and healthy that they don’t need it – are going to be shocked when they find out what they’re actually going to have to pay.
More reporting on the concealment of plan prices from CBS News:
Jonathan Wu is co-founder of Valuepenguin.com, a consumer finance website focusing on the impact of health care reform. His company has built a tool that provides quotes for plans on the federal exchange. He said it’s “incredibly misleading for people that are trying to get a sense of what they’re paying.”
During its investigation, CBS News reporters and analysts ran cost figures for a 48-year-old female in Charlotte, N.C., who is ineligible for subsidies. According to the Healthcare.gov site, she would pay $231 a month, though the actual plan on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s website costs $360, or more than 50 percent higher. “The difference,” CBS News said, is that “Blue Cross and Blue Shield requests your bierthday before providing more accurat estimates.
“The numbers for older Americans are even more striking. A 62-year-old in Charlotte looking for the same basic plan would get a price estimate on the government website of $394. The actual price is $634,” said the report.
Much of America should get ready for health insurance sticker shock.