HealthCare.gov's Problems Don't Discredit Liberalism

A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 21 2013 10:52 AM

HealthCare.gov's Problems Don't Discredit Liberalism

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Screenshot from HealthCare.gov

The problems with HealthCare.gov are a substantial practical problem for the Affordable Care Act and should be a real source of shame for the Obama administration, which appears to have massively screwed this up. But smug conservatives are getting ridiculous about this:

Two salient points here.

First, it's just obviously not the case that "the government" lacks the competence to build a good website. We have several state exchanges that work fine! FRED is great! NASA has a great website! NASA also sends robots to explore Mars!

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Second, believe it or not, the existence of great websites is sort of incidental to the operation of a social insurance system. Social Security and Medicare, for example, both have good websites in 2013. But both programs functioned fine for decades without any kind of website at all. Universal health care systems were built all around the world before the Internet existed. The reason the Affordable Care Act is supposed to feature great websites is because the Internet exists in 2013, so we expect things to have websites, but it's not like the underlying idea of bringing a Bismarkian health insurance system to the United States depends in some conceptual way on the website. Bismark did it in 1883! They've added a prominent "apply by phone" tab to HealthCare.gov for just this reason.

Now personally applying by phone sounds like a pain in the butt to me. I'd rather apply online. Good organizations should build good websites, and there's no excuse for having failed to do so. But the implications for the larger project of welfare state liberalism are nonexistent.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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