If you build it poorly, they won’t come — even if it’s free

From the Washington Post:

Confusion persisted Wednesday around the long-awaited opportunity for Americans to sign up for coverage through new health-insurance marketplaces, with the federal Web site for more than half the states remaining balky and health plans uncertain whether they had any new customers.

The federal site, Healthcare.gov, was sluggish and flashed error messages much of the day. The Obama administration said the delays were simply the result of an initial rush of people flocking to the site — 4.7 million unique visitors in the first 24 hours — while some in the health-care industry suggested that the problem was more serious.

Officials at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services insisted that some people were able to get far enough into the site to peruse their insurance options, find out whether they qualify for financial help and ultimately enroll in a health plan. But administration officials, for a second day, declined to disclose how many people actually had enrolled and where in the country they live.

Or how old those who enrolled are. Getting young, healthy people into the exchanges is critical to Obamacare.

Other sources were less secretive about numbers.

Meanwhile, interviews with health insurers, industry consultants, nonprofit groups and people trying to sign up for coverage suggested that the number was very low. Some companies that are offering plans on the federal site said Wednesday that no one had signed up with them.

Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,” said one insurance industry official, who like many in the industry, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for possibly offending the Obama administration. “We are talking single digits.

A spokesman for one major Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in a southern state said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, it had not received word from federal health officials of any customers who had completed enrollment in the plan — even though a local news outlet had reported about a man who thought he had signed up. So, plan officials didn’t know whether the man’s enrollment was incomplete or whether the federal reporting of enrollment was running behind.

What does this mean for the future of Obamacare? The Post says that this question gives rise to “intense debate.” But it acknowledges the possibility that “the early kinks, especially if they persist, could undermine consumer confidence in a law that already has sparked fevered political opposition and widespread public confusion.”

Mary Jean Beigel is one consumer whose confidence has ebbed considerably:

Beltsville resident Nancy Jean Beigel, 55, was among about a dozen people selected to stand with President Obama during a brief appearance Tuesday at the White House to tout the law. But after two unsuccessful attempts at signing up for coverage, once Tuesday and once Wednesday, she gave up for the moment.

“It’s a little confusing,” said Beigel, who earns $8,000 a year running a small cleaning service and likely will qualify for free care under expanded Medicaid. “It’s not so great.”

Like I said, if you build it poorly…

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