It’s Monday, March 31. Obamacare D-Day.
If you have procrastinated over the past six months and haven’t tried to log on to get insurance before today, you might encounter some hiccups.
The healthcare.gov website had been functioning smoothly of late, but Monday morning, some users encountered a message that read, “The system isn’t available at the moment. We're currently performing maintenance. Please try again later.”
There’s not too much “later” left. CNN's Jim Acosta reported Monday the site was unavailable in the early morning hours when a scheduled maintenance ran too long. It appeared by 8:30 that the site was again functioning, but record traffic slowed the site down and a queuing system was in place so that some visitors had to wait to proceed to their state’s enrollment section.
The waits continued throughout the morning and in the afternoon HHS released a statement explaining the site was having trouble keeping up with last-minute traffic and people trying to log on for the first time.
"We are experiencing record volume on HealthCare.gov today," said spokeswoman Joanne Peters in a statement. " 1.2 million visits through noon and 125k plus concurrent users at peak so far today. The waiting room is up to meet demand. Consumers may wait, or may leave their email and they will be invited back."
If you don’t have health insurance by today - and you haven’t started the process to get it - there’s a good chance you’ll have to pay a fine during tax time next year.
Consumers who attempt to sign up on the final day of enrollment but experience technical problems will be given a few additional days to complete the process, and administration official told CNN's Acosta.
Beyond the last day hiccups, there are two issues to chart on Obamacare: the policy and the politics. And they seem to run at crosscurrents.
From a policy standpoint, millions of people have signed up, which would seem to make the program viable in the short term. But the success of the law will be charted in the coming years as insurance companies reconfigure premiums and respond to the ratio of healthy to sick enrollees in their broad new insurance pools. Only then will we know if this grand experiment will do anything to control the cost of health care and come closer to achieving universal coverage.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency in charge of implementing the law, announced Sunday that weekend traffic to the federal healthcare.gov site had spiked with more than 2 million visits. A call center had received more than 2.5 million calls over the past week.
More than 6 million enrollments reported by the administration last week won’t be enough for the people who oppose the law on principle. One Republican senator, John Barrasso of Wyoming, himself a doctor, said he doesn’t believe the 6 million figure anyway.
"I don't think it means anything. … I think they're cooking the books on this," he said on "Fox News Sunday.”
Cooking the books is quite an allegation, and there’s no evidence to suggest that exactly. But it is true the administration hasn’t given out all of the Obamacare enrollment data it surely must have.
The other policy element to watch is how Obamacare works in different states. Enrollment has been much higher - predominantly in blue states - where governors and legislatures set up their own exchanges. It could end up being a bigger policy success in these places than in places - many of them red states - where governors continue to fight the law and the exchanges are run by the federal government.'
From a political standpoint, Democrats have already paid a huge political price for this law, and if forecasts are true for a good year for Republicans in the coming midterm elections, Democrats will continue to pay. That’s because 6 million or 7 million enrollments won’t do much to change the way most people feel about the law.
Support (or opposition) to the law seems to have gelled. Between 35% and 40% or so of Americans like the law. A little more than half of Americans don’t like it. But the people who don’t like it include the 10% or so who don’t think it goes far enough. These numbers have played out, with slight differences, in most of the recent polls on the issue.
Here is CNN’s poll from earlier this month.
And there is one other key point in the polling data. Even though half of Americans oppose the law, less than a third - 29% in the most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll - want it repealed.
But the conservatives who don’t like the law don’t like it a lot more than liberals support it.
Bill Clinton gave his advice to Democrats in an interview with Real Clear Politics over the weekend. His party has been too timid in dealing with the health law and its unpopularity, he said. They shouldn’t run away from their signature achievement.
"I thought that Democrats had a tendency to shy away from things they had done that were unpopular, (and) talk about positions they had that were popular. And that my own experience had convinced me - going back to '94 and even more when I was governor - that that was always a terrible mistake. That you had to turn in toward all controversies and embrace them - even if you said you were wrong or a mistake was made. You couldn't not deal with it."
How will Democrats deal with Obamacare? In the Senate, moderate Democrats have said they’ll introduce a series of “fixes” to the health care law. But Republicans have been more intent on larger-scale changes and might not be willing to work to improve a law they entirely oppose.