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U.S. Opinions: Washington

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Health-care challenge

From an editorial in Tuesday’s Washington Post:

Defying pessimistic predictions, more than half who signed up for insurance in the health-care exchanges were previously uninsured, according to a June Kaiser Family Foundation survey. The Affordable Care Act, then, has not served merely as a vehicle to move insured people from one plan to another. It is enrolling uninsured people, its main purpose. Among those who had insurance before, more reported lower bills under Obamacare than higher, and many in both groups no doubt have better coverage.

But are those figures fraught with error or fraud? The Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general revealed last week that there were 2.9 million inconsistencies between the information insurance applicants submitted to the federal exchange and data about them in government records. Most discrepancies had to do with citizenship status or income, both of which determine people’s eligibility for subsidies. The administration’s flawed technical systems were unable to resolve the inconsistencies quickly, so they piled up, and officials are still working through them.

Many discrepancies are likely to be small – incorrect documentation, misspellings or a simple absence of available records for the government to consult.

Problems of this sort are inherent in creating a system to distribute any means-tested benefit to millions of people, in this case a benefit that seems to be doing a lot of good. The right response is to get better at catching and resolving errors faster, not to condemn the system.

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