Tuesday marks a big milestone for Obamacare: It’s the day when the health law’s state-level exchanges open for enrollment, and when uninsured people will begin being able to sign up for coverage. But it’s important to put the day in context. Here’s what you should keep in mind as the current headlines are dominated by Obamacare:
Even though the government is shut down, Obamacare is moving forward. The beginning of Obamacare’s open enrollment period coincides with the beginning of a government shutdown. Ironically, a handful of far-right members of Congress essentially refused to pass a bill to fund the government because they didn’t want to “devote a penny” to Obamacare. But shutting down the government doesn’t do anything to halt the health law’s implementation, because its funding has already been secured. The exchanges are moving forward as planned.
This isn’t the only day to sign up for coverage. A lot of emphasis has been put on this October 1 start date. Advocacy groups and administration officials are making a big push to let Americans know that Obamacare is now open for business. But that doesn’t mean anyone needs to worry if they can’t sign up immediately. The initial open enrollment period stretches on until March, so uninsured Americans will have months to get themselves signed up. It doesn’t really matter if they don’t get it done today.
Most people probably won’t sign up today, but they’ll sign up eventually. In light of the fact that Americans have six months to sign up for Obamacare plans, enrollment is more of a marathon than a sprint. Administration officials don’t actually expect a rush of people to sign up on the very first day. That doesn’t mean they’ll never sign up, of that the entire health law is a total failure. It will just probably take more time for people to figure out their options and sit down to enroll. The majority of uninsured Americans say they’re planning on signing up for health coverage under Obamacare, even if they’re still confused about how exactly the exchanges will work.
Some of the state websites will probably have some initial glitches. Don’t panic. State officials have spent months preparing for the impending enrollment period, and some of them have warned that their technology may not be completely ready to go. As the New York Times reports, many states are approaching October as a “soft launch,” and expect to be totally up and running after the first few weeks. So far, there’s been heavy traffic to the exchange websites that’s bogging them down. But Obamacare’s enrollment period is long enough that there will probably be more than enough time to resolve issues and get everyone signed up. “It’s no accident that there is a six-month open enrollment period,” a senior administration official told ThinkProgress. In addition to the websites, Americans can also sign up for coverage with a paper application.
Anti-Obamacare conservatives are essentially hoping that technology problems will prevent people from getting health coverage. On Tuesday morning, right-wing Obamacare opponents had already started proclaiming that the exchanges’ websites aren’t working. “The big question: how long will it take Obama to blame the health care exchange glitches on Bush?” tweeted Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. As the health reform law rolls out and uninsured Americans gain more options for coverage, conservatives are hoping to see the exchanges fail — an outcome that might win them political points, but that would ultimately mean uninsured people are struggling to gain coverage.