Postpone the Jan. 1 Obamacare deadline

  • Updated: December 4, 2013 - 6:44 PM

The sign-up process is a mess. Take time to make it right before causing more pain.

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Photo: Hector Casanova • Kansas City Star/MCT,

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Over the weekend, the Obama administration announced that it had met its self-imposed deadline to fix its balky health insurance exchange website for the “vast majority” of users. U.S. Health and Human Services officials issued a graphics-heavy, information-light report that claimed great leaps of progress from the earlier crash-prone website that frustrated most users for weeks.

The administration says, mission (largely) accomplished. The feds set the bar low and now claim to have cleared it.

Federal officials crowed over the weekend that the website can handle 50,000 users at a time. But many more than that will likely flood in, particularly since they’ve had their individual policies canceled because of Obamacare mandates and they need coverage by Jan. 1. The deadline to sign up: Dec. 23. Three weeks.

Here’s an ominous sign that the system still isn’t ready for a massive influx of customers: Federal officials are not launching a planned December health care marketing campaign, lest too many users pile into healthcare.gov and … bleep, blurp, bloop. We’re sorry, the website is currently unavailable. Please try again later.

The problem isn’t just with the sluggish response times to load pages. It’s in what happens in what insurers call “the back end” — after a customer chooses a plan and sends the application to the insurance company. Insurers need to verify the data, process the enrollment and send a premium bill

The next three weeks are crucial. There will be a mad scramble to keep fixing a massively complex computer system while processing millions of sensitive personal documents. That’s not just about covering the uninsured. Millions of people who had individual coverage but lost it because of Obamacare need coverage starting Jan. 1. Many of them are still in limbo, their applications lost in the giant federal maze.

All the more reason for the administration to delay the mandate that Americans buy insurance or pay a penalty. The White House already has granted businesses a pass on providing employees insurance or paying a fine.

Last month, administration officials told state regulators they could allow insurers to extend individual insurance policies into 2014. Last week, the administration postponed for at least a year plans to allow small businesses in many states to use a website to choose health insurance plans for their employees.

How about an early Christmas present? Give everyone a pause on Obamacare.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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