Eagle editorial: Fix the insurance marketplace

As the Cabinet member in charge of the embarrassing launch of the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius isn’t doing much for her reputation, President Obama’s signature initiative or, far more important, the millions of Americans who lack health insurance and are mandated to have it under the law.

“The great news is, we have a terrific market,” Sebelius, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” on Monday.

The bad news is, that market is worthless when it’s like a grocery store that blocks shoppers at various points along the aisles and lacks functioning checkout counters.

Because of all the error messages and frozen screens, it has been unclear how many Kansans, if any, have been able to enroll through HealthCare.gov since the marketplace opened Oct. 1. The federal site serves as the enrollment portal for Kansas and 35 other states that declined to design and run their own sites.

The federal shutdown isn’t helping, despite officials’ promises that it wouldn’t affect the ACA rollout. At least some Wichitans’ efforts to get help via phone or e-mail have proved fruitless. Kansas patient advocates have been assured that things should improve this week.

Maybe Kansans would be finding it easier if, two years ago, Gov. Sam Brownback hadn’t returned the $31 million in federal funding the state had been granted to set up its own enrollment site.

Or maybe not. While New York state and California have reported 40,000 and 28,000 enrollments, respectively, the state-run exchange in Maryland had only 326 through Sunday. Those numbers are a long way from the 7 million uninsured people expected to acquire coverage for 2014 through the exchanges.

At least some of the technological problems stem from the need to verify a user’s identity and income from multiple agencies in order to determine eligibility for subsidies.

By Thursday, pundit Andrew Sullivan of the Dish was asking: “When is Kathleen Sebelius going to be fired?”

Sebelius acknowledged to Stewart that “it started a little rockier than we’d like” and promised in a USA Today commentary that “we will continue making upgrades and improvements to the consumer experience.”

Because enrollment is a finite period – through Dec. 15 to be covered as of Jan. 1 and through March 31 to be covered for the year – Sebelius and her staff had better get their act together. Each dysfunctional day supports the critics’ predictions that “Obamacare” not only wouldn’t be ready for prime time but will never be.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman