Let the Private Sector Help Fix Obamacare

Public-private collaboration has created all sorts of consumer friendly innovations.

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In this Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 computer frame grab, a HealthCare.gov website message is displayed. Bob Laszewski, a Washington, D.C.-based health care industry consultant, suspects the dearth of early enrollment data conceals an extremely slow start thanks to widely reported technical problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the exchanges in 36 states, does not expect to release enrollment data until the middle of November.

In a letter to President Obama, Gary Lauer, the CEO of eHealth, one of the leading online health insurance companies, has proposed to the administration that his company run the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare) enrollment and purchasing process for free, while the federal website fixes its many tech problems.

"While your staff is working hard to repair Healthcare.gov, with your support we can be the stopgap that is needed," Lauer said in a letter to the president. 

Innovative private sector solutions to public policy issues are nothing new. eHealth has been in the online health insurance business for more than 13 years and enrolled millions of individuals during that time frame. Chini Krishnan, CEO of Getinsured.com, when asked if their site could handle high volumes of visitors, said "yeah, absolutely … We've been doing that for eight years." Brandon Cruz, CEO of another online health insurance site, GoHealth.com, in response to a question about handling large volumes of potential new customers, said, "we already have, for years and years. We have many thousands of agents that use our platforms today, prior to health reform, and they run their whole business on it."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Bobby Koritala, chief product officer of insurance data integrity provider Infogix, said in an interview with CNBC, "it would be hugely effective" if the federal government proactively pushed individuals to web-based insurance markets, "because you'd have that many more portals to go in and enroll."

But, unfortunately, government often ignores the private sector as part of the solution – for example, the state of California has already announced that it will not allow eHealth or other private sector web-based markets to participate in the enrollment phase of Obamacare.

Public-private collaboration has worked to fuel all sorts of consumer friendly innovations and solutions – examples include the Internet itself, government-sponsored research on long-range batteries that lead to the creation of the Tesla electric car, government-sponsored research and development on GPS that allowed a startup company called Uber to completely change the consumer transportation market and touchscreen displays that have created revolutionary change as far as how consumers live their lives.   

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Recently, a D.C.-based startup incubator called 1776 launched a 16-city global startup competition, the Challenge Cup, to find the world's most innovative and promising startups, tacking four key challenges – education, healthcare, energy and city challenges. 1776 Co-Founder Evan Burfield said of the competition, "Challenge Cup looks to take the revolution that has taken place in the consumer web and bring it to more antiquated and institutional public sector arenas." 

Tuesday night, 1776 hosted the first round of competition with 39 startups competing for four slots to represent D.C. in the broader competition slated for May 2014. Thirty-nine passionate entrepreneurs presented their ideas for seeking to improve health care delivery systems, improve the way we educate our kids, make transportation choices more effective and efficient, and offer solutions for consumers to make better energy solutions. If only one could bottle up their creativity, outside-the-box thinking and innovation and send it to our public policy makers to unleash a new approach to solve our nation's biggest issues. 

Perhaps, a good outcome of the initial failure of the rollout of Healthcare.gov is the awareness that innovation hasn't been stifled and we still have the best and brightest minds to tackle our nation's biggest problems if only we are willing to all set pride aside and work together.

  • Read Pat Garofalo: Cancelled Health Insurance Plans Under Obamacare Only Affect Small Population
  • Read Peter Fenn: Halloween Witch Trials About Obamacare Avoid the Facts
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