The Obama administration is smart to move toward enabling consumers to buy subsidized health insurance directly from insurers rather than only through the balky federal website. It's not a perfect solution, but it will help families get coverage and buy time to get the malfunctioning healthcare.gov website working correctly. It is critical to take every step possible toward providing affordable health coverage for millions before the political assault on the administration's failures further erodes public confidence and kills the entire reform effort.
Besides fixing the website's flaws, President Barack Obama and his allies have to better explain consumers' options. For example, families already can buy directly from insurers the same plans that are available on the federal exchange. The problem is that families who want to become eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for the cost of coverage can only go through the exchange, and insurers can't connect with the federal data hub to determine eligibility.
Within days, consumers who want to learn if they are eligible for federal subsidies should be able to go directly to an individual insurer rather than through the federal exchange. It will be harder for them to compare coverage from different insurers than at the one-stop shopping promised by the federal marketplace. But it should take some pressure off the federal website, which officials have promised should be working as expected by the end of this month. The website performs better now than when it debuted. But there are still significant flaws and widespread reports of consumers losing their connection before they complete shopping for coverage.
Obama and his administration should be held accountable for the disastrous rollout of the federal marketplace. The president also has apologized for overpromising that anyone who wanted to keep his or her current plan — no matter the plan's shortcomings — would be able to keep it. It was a failure of leadership and a lack of focus for the president to allow his signature legislation to go so far off track, and his sliding poll numbers reflect the dissatisfaction of many Americans. But the effort by millions to use the federal marketplace underscores the demand for affordable health care coverage, and it is imperative that the administration makes the necessary adjustments to meet the need.
The Republican criticisms of the administration's shortcomings are understandable, but they should be put into perspective. Their goal is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, not improve it. Their aim is to damage the president's credibility, not help him achieve other goals. And the hypocrisy of their efforts to undermine health care reform by making it harder to sign up for coverage while they get special treatment is clear.
As consumers struggle to use the federal website, the New York Times reports that members of Congress can log on to a Blue Cross and Blue Shield website only for their use. As Republicans make it difficult for navigators to help families sign up for plans, members of Congress have "in-person support sessions'' at the Capitol. And as they demanded that consumers be allowed to keep low-cost plans that provide little coverage, they were able to choose from more comprehensive plans than are often offered elsewhere.
The Obama administration should be held responsible for its mistakes. The president has to make good on his promises to make the federal marketplace work and make it easier for Americans to sign up for coverage. But the outrage coming from many members of Congress should be taken with large grains of salt.