Will the Obamacare exchanges be ready?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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While a lot of us have been asking whether or not states should establish health care exchanges, back in November, the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff asked a different question: “Is Obamacare too much work for the Obama administration?

It was a completely reasonable question.

The exchanges are set to go online when open enrollment starts this October (coverage begins in January), and the complexity of building an Expedia for health care consumers is nothing short of breathtaking (as the graph illustrates.)

When you consider that some states will create their own exchanges (the White House now says they will be given extra time to comply with the law), while the federal government will create some exchanges (and partner with others), it becomes clear that this is a huge logistical challenge.

Add in the fact that each state has its own regulations — and that numerous governmental agencies will have to interface through the back end of the system — and it’s hard to imagine anyone meets the deadline.

To give you an idea how difficult the task, consider this: Just last month, NBC Nightly News reported that the Air Force spent $1 billion and seven years on a failed effort to consolidate their computer systems.

This software modernization project, called the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS), was a logistical challenge, to be sure.

HHS continues to insist the exchanges will launch on time. But if the Air Force couldn’t make their modernization project work in seven years, what are the odds government bureaucrats can seamlessly slap together these complex exchanges (now called “marketplaces”) in a matter of a few months?

Matt K. Lewis