The board overseeing Massachusetts' health insurance exchange voted 10–1 last Thursday in favor of purchasing the software running other states' more successful exchange websites, while also contemplating a temporary switchover to the federal exchange established by ObamaCare.
The fix would cost more than $120 million, most of which Massachusetts officials hope to obtain from the federal government. They claim this will be a bargain compared with actually trying to repair the commonwealth's bungled exchange website.
Massachusetts had one of the most disastrous ObamaCare rollouts in the nation. Unlike HealthCare.gov, the Bay State's Health Connector website never really recovered, despite $57 million being plowed into the system. An attempt to switch to paper applications produced a backlog in the tens of thousands.
Things got so bad that Health Connector executive director Jean Yang broke down in tears at an exchange board meeting earlier this year. She wept for her overworked staff: "These people came here to lead and innovate, and instead they're doing manual workarounds, and they are embarrassed to tell friends and family that they work for the Health Connector."
Yang testified not long after the Massachusetts exchange reported that it had signed up only 8,000 individuals for health insurance by the end of January. That was about 5 percent of its goal for the first three months of the enrollment period.
Massachusetts moved 160,000 residents into Medicaid on a temporary basis — and at a cost of $10 million a month. And now we may see another wave of insurance cancelations as bureaucrats renew their push to make policies ObamaCare compliant.
Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has been forced to invoke emergency powers to bypass the commonwealth's procurement rules and award no-bid contracts to save the ObamaCare exchange. An exchange spokesman said the move was necessary "to avoid substantial harm to the functioning of government."
The most amazing part of all this is that Massachusetts had a functioning health-care exchange as early as 2006. It was designed by the Bay State health-care law signed by Gov. Mitt Romney (R) — thus the name RomneyCare — concocted with the help of everyone from liberal lion Ted Kennedy to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
All this became incredibly inconvenient when Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. It certainly complicated the former Massachusetts governor's case for repealing ObamaCare, as the president happily pointed out during their debates.
Protestations from both parties notwithstanding, RomneyCare became the model on which the Affordable Care Act was substantially based. They both tried to increase private insurance coverage through mandates, regulations, and subsidies, augmented by Medicaid.
RomneyCare was, in some ways, a success. After the law was passed, more than 97 percent of residents were covered. A Harvard study showed the law may have significantly reduced mortality (albeit at huge costs), a possibility even many ObamaCare skeptics conceded might be a major point in the law's favor.
And now Massachusetts is flailing.
What went wrong? Conservatives have long expected complaints about RomneyCare — high premiums, long wait times to see a doctor, and mixed results on emergency room visits — to apply to ObamaCare, too. But the Affordable Care Act has brought a whole new set of problems to the Bay State. The Massachusetts exchange is experiencing problems RomneyCare never had.
Integrating the new federal rules into the old exchange proved too much for Massachusetts. One report compared it to a body rejecting an organ transplant. CGI, the vendor that botched HealthCare.gov, similarly flubbed its $68 million Bay State contract. Moreover, commonwealth officials mostly wasted $180 million in no-strings-attached federal money (they are now seeking more).
RomneyCare was a bipartisan achievement that had little interaction with Washington. All major players had a stake in its success, and there was nowhere else to pass the blame for failure. None of that applies to ObamaCare.
ObamaCare problems are frequently blamed on Republican intransigence. The GOP, the argument goes, is always trying to repeal or defund the law in Congress. At the state level, many of the party's governors are resisting its Medicaid expansion or the creation of state-run exchanges.
Yet the three worst-performing exchanges in the country were all located in liberal, Democratic-run states where most politicians are sympathetic to ObamaCare's goals: Maryland, Oregon, and Massachusetts. Massachusetts is arguably bringing up the rear. Some of the states led by anti-ObamaCare politicians, by contrast, were most efficient at enrolling people.
Barring a (very expensive) miracle, the Health Connector will be disconnected. In the last presidential campaign, Romney wanted governors and legislatures to be able experiment with Massachusetts-style reforms at the state level. Barack Obama wanted such reforms imposed federally.
Looks like Obama won again. But this time, will it be a Pyrrhic victory?
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Russia's giant spy ship was a high-tech disaster waiting to happen
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How American businessmen are ruining American business — and the U.S. economy
- America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'
- 10 things you need to know today: September 2, 2014
- The Obama era is over. The presidency continues.
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- On ISIS, neocons and liberal hawks have a 'boy who cried wolf' problem
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September
Subscribe to the Week