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9 Questions About HealthCare.gov Answered

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images File Photo
Zients is Obama’s pick to head the National Economic Council starting in January.

HealthCare.gov is working much better than it was at the start of October. But the woebegone federal website that must haul a system of affordable health coverage into place if the health care law is going to succeed has a long way to go and a short time to get there.

Down 60 percent of the time after the site’s Oct. 1 launch, Obama administration officials say HealthCare.gov is up more than 90 percent of the time now.

But Jeffrey Zients, the fix-it man knocking heads to repair the site’s technical problems, is out the door at the end of the month. He’s President Barack Obama’s choice to head the National Economic Council starting in January.

So what are the odds that an administration that says it neglected to exercise enough management oversight of the crucial information technology piece of a law will do a good job of finishing the work needed? Or that it will make sure the tech problems are resolved and the site functions well from now on?

There are tons of questions when it comes to HealthCare.gov. Here are a few answers.

1. It’s just a website — what’s the big fuss about the HealthCare.gov tech problems?

The health care law brought with it many things that no Congress likely will want to erase: free preventive benefits, better Medicare drug coverage, family coverage for young adults up to age 26, no lifetime caps on insurance payouts.

But in a very real way, HealthCare.gov is the heart of the Affordable Care Act. The health care law will go down in history if it fulfills its potential to move the United States close to universal coverage. But that won’t happen if HealthCare.gov can’t enroll the right mix of young, healthy Americans to offset the cost of insuring older, sicker ones.

2. How could they screw it up when they had three years to plan for the launch?

This White House is often stingy with information, so it’s hard to know exactly what went wrong. But the work required to stand up the law has been enormous. Republicans tried to squeeze off funding to get it going and weaponized every snippet of information about it. But the White House staff dug itself a bunker. Bottling up regulations until after the 2012 elections left less time for HealthCare.gov. Not sharing plans for the site meant its flaws couldn’t be fixed with outside help.

3. Who were the health tech experts in charge? Wasn’t the private sector supposed to play a big role?

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