Fresh Ideas: Have humans, not computers, fix ACA issues
December 4, 2013
To my horror and amusement, I now use the phrases "when I was young" and "back in the day" every day. From my new vantage point as a 60-something, I can't resist glancing backward to reflect on my ancient history.
The recent disaster-in-slow-motion for the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act to mandate health insurance takes me back to my first job, in Boston. After college, I worked for a rating bureau, a creation of the insurance industry to bring consistency, coordination and the appearance of self-regulation to a largely unregulated industry. I was hired to check the accuracy of rates and premiums on fire insurance policies for the six New England states as a rate clerk.
This was before computers. But it was just before computers, so the insurance companies were demanding the accuracy of newfangled computers from a roomful of poorly paid clerks. Our work was scrutinized for speed and accuracy by front line managers. They berated us for making mistakes, for being human. We in turn caught the mistakes of local insurance agents. We clerks issued "criticism" forms to notify agents of the errors and the remedy — the charge or refund for the customer.
Fast forward to modern times, the ACA implementation is malfunctioning because of … information technology, the new lingo for computers. Labor-saving, time-saving, brain-saving technology rises up in a diabolically complex conspiracy to foil heath care for humans. It would make an entertaining sci-fi drama.
After a failed launch of the healthcare.gov website, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the White House were forced to regroup and remessage, repeatedly, to recruit competent managers and troubleshooters to coordinate the repair of massive glitches in the single website portal for uninsured consumers in 36 states. It is a huge bungle for President Obama and his team.
To have ACA health insurance enrollment totally depend on a website is technologically logical but fundamentally flawed. Like health care itself, health insurance is personal, even intimate, and a matter of survival. The what's-wrong-with-this-picture moment comes when the success of the ACA hinges on a website rather than on people.
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The website is working better at the front end, according to the Monday New York Times, but, "the systems that are supposed to deliver consumer information to insurers still have not been fixed."
In Nevada we are fortunate to have our own health insurance exchange, web-based but more user-friendly, and with options for assistance including humans to help. For all the flaws and mistakes that humans make, I would rather turn to a person, in my community or county, as a resource to help find affordable health insurance that's a good fit for me.
I moved on from insurance services after five years and never looked back, until now. I never thought I'd come to advocate for insurance agents. But at a certain age, that's the forward thinking that comes from looking back.
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.