Today we learn from the Associated Press that the Department of Health and Human Services was targeting 500,000 signups by the end of October which seems—shall we say—unlikely at this point. […]This is the kind of thing that if it gets fixed in time, nobody will care about in 10 or 5 or even 1 year. But there really is a problem if it doesn’t get fixed in time. Insurance risk pools need scale to really work, and to be viable you need to make sure you sign up plenty of youngish people who don’t have acute health care needs. That was always going to be a difficult lift, but it’s one the administration was very much prepared for. These technical problems, however, are throwing them off their game plan and if they persist too long will make it hard to make the numbers the program needs to succeed.
One question that remains is whether the individual mandate penalty will bring visitors flooding back to an improved site in mid-December/early January. After all, even though visits have already dropped 88 percent, the ACA isn’t just like a normal novelty product that will stabilize at low but persistent traffic levels when the newness rubs off. Traffic will probably come in spurts as various parts of the law go into effect, and the January 1 deadline is among the most important of those parts. But just how consequential that mid-December, pre-deadline traffic spurt will be depends on how easy subsidies are to get and how painful penalties are to face; neither is looking particularly favorable for the law’s prospects at the moment. Time will tell.