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Shelly: 'Obamacare' exchanges open with glitches, and that's great news

A woman looks at the insurance exchange

A woman looks at the insurance exchange internet site in Washington, DC. (Oct. 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The new online health insurance marketplaces, brought to you courtesy of the Affordable Care Act, were a mess on Tuesday. Many people labored for hours to get a look at the products available, and some never succeeded at all.

This is great news, but not for the folks who want to derail the Obamacare "train wreck." What it shows is a pent-up demand from people seeking affordable insurance.

In Kentucky, which designed its own exchange and has actively promoted it, the KyNet website had received 24,000 visitors and processed 1,000 applications before the site crashed around 8:30 a.m., according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

In Washington, which also has its own exchange, officials reported that 3,356 customers had created accounts to shop for a plan by 3 p.m., and 398 had completed their applications.

States that designed their own marketplaces seemed to fare better than those, like Missouri and Kansas, that opted to let the Department of Health and Human Services set up their exchanges. Most people trying to take a look at the products in Missouri and Kansas were thwarted by technical difficulties.

The refusal of Republican officials in both those states to create their own exchanges is definitely turning into a liability. Missourians, in particular, have been given very little information about the process. That's because state officials are handcuffed by a law forbidding them to take any steps establishing or promoting an exchange without the permission of the legislature. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback returned a $31.5 million grant to the federal government that would have been used to design a marketplace unique to Kansas.

Last week, in Missouri, a legislative committee was discussing ways to "transform" Medicaid, possibly by having recipients purchase insurance on the statewide exchange. That approach is drawing a lot of attention to Arkansas. But, as experts told lawmakers, Arkansas has its own exchange, which makes it easier to be innovative than using the federal template.

Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services, told reporters she hoped the insurance exchanges would receive the same leeway that consumers grant Apple when it rolls out a new product.

Here's a report from "Sebelius observed that iPhone users don't ordinarily consider such glitchy rollouts as the end of the world, or the failure of the iPhone. "Everyone just assumes 'well there's a problem, they'll fix it,'" she said.

"We're building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you'll give us the same slack you give Apple." Not a chance, Madam Secretary.

On Twitter, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was calling the rollout - you guessed it - a train wreck. "Today's poor rollout of #ObamaCare exchanges proves this law is not ready for prime time," Blunt tweeted.

But Sebelius is right. The glitches are expected and they will be fixed over time. But it's going to get harder and harder for Republicans to claim that Americans don't want anything to do with the Affordable Care Act.

Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.


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