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Business Lessons from Obamacare’s Healthcare.gov Rollout

It’s been in the news for a long time…the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA, also known as Obamacare.

This isn’t a political post.  Some people are for it, and some against it.  We won’t delve into the politics or the philosophy underscoring the law, or the passage of it.

This blog post is about business lessons we can learn, re-learn, and remind ourselves about from the debacle resulting from the rollout of the Obamacare enrollment website:  www.healthcare.gov.

What happened?  Why is it relevant to our businesses?  Isn’t it just computer glitches?

All great questions…glad you asked.

Here is one article from the Washington Post wherein the discussion centers around testing.

There are many more articles pouring out of the media.

In a nut shell, the best practices and common-sense business rules that were broken are:

1.  Deliver value to the customer

Recent reports put the cost of the project currently at over $400 million.  See this article from the Washington Post.

For that $400 million spent from taxpayers monies, the number of people that actually got to enroll on October 1st was six…six people enrolled on the first day of access.  See this article from Forbes.

I would venture a guess and say that any business that spends over $400 million on a project that was in production for over two years and gets a return of six customers on the launch day has not delivered value to its investors, (the only company allowed to dump that much time and money into a project and still release a buggy product is Microsoft).  Of course, taxpayers whose money was used to fund this project have no recourse or say.  They can’t sell their stock and recover their loss.  They can’t fire the head of the company for failure to deliver on expected value, or for causing the company to be mired down in negative media reports due to incompetence, or lack of project leadership, or over delegating responsibility…I always say delegation does not mean abdication.  Just because you delegate tasks doesn’t mean you get to abdicate accountability.

2.  Value considerations are more than just numbers

Recent reports have highlighted that a number of promises made to customers under the new law have been sidelined, misrepresented, or were just never a part of the project.

For instance, it was promised that folks who liked their current insurance policies could keep them.  Instead, ALL insurance policies must meet the same minimum requirements in order to be compliant.  As such, all insurance policies not meeting these requirements were cancelled by the insurance companies, and instead of getting to keep their current insurance plans, folks have received letters that cancelled their insurance effective January 1st 2014.  The latest news from NBC.com has quoted people in the Administration saying that 50 to 75 percent of the people with individual policies will lose their current coverage because of the new mandates.   The article goes on to say that within the law itself, verbiage pegged the number to be between 40% and 67%.  What does this mean in real numbers?  Well, the numbers are that 14 million Americans have individual policies which means that between 7 million and 11 million people will have to give up the insurance plans they liked.

So, the best business practice that was ignored here is “deliver on your promises.”  When you represent a product or service to a customer and it turns out to be sidelined, misrepresented, or just plain untrue, in the business world we can sue for breach of contract and terminate any contractual terms and conditions for failure to perform, failure to deliver, and sometimes out and out deliberate intentional misrepresentation.

Here, I would venture a guess and say that any business that doesn’t deliver on its promised goods and services wouldn’t be in business very long. All their customers would leave and go to their competitors…oh wait, under Obamacare there are no competitors.  The government has given itself a monopoly on the insurance industry by mandating the coverages that will be allowed and mandating that people have to buy them.  So there is no competitor to take your business to.  I guess a business that doesn’t have to worry about competitors, but has a stranglehold on your wallet by virtue of a law can do anything it wants…

But, I stand my ground and say that in the business world, if we don’t deliver as promised, we lose customers.

3.  Customer Service is everything

Recent reports showing that the enrollment in Obamacare on October 1st was only six people due to a faulty website. And with no one to turn to for help and no supervisor to escalate the problem to, it is obvious that customer service on this issue was non-existent.  (See the Forbes article above.)

When a business promises excellent customer service, promises to be there for questions, for help, and for guidance, we have to deliver, or again risk losing our customers.

The best practice business rule ignored here is deliver service above all else.  Be there for your customer.  Great service will prove to be the deciding factor when all other things are more or less equal.  People always remember excellent customer service.  And they always remember poor customer service.

4.  Under Obamacare, the rule is that four types of coverage are all that is needed

Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.   What you choose depends on what your deductible will be, how much you are willing to spend, and what your out of pocket costs will be. See this Forbes article for some explanations.

What this means is that the essential coverages are the exact same whether you are a young woman the age of thirty, or a man in his eighties.  Both of them will get to be covered for maternity, well baby care, diabetes, prostate cancer screenings, heart conditions, etc.  In other words, one size fits all.  That’s the foundation of Obamacare coverage.

Well, I don’t know about you, but in my experience one size does not fit all…in anything.  Not only that, in the U.S.A. where all cultures are welcome to thrive, not only does one size not fit all, but one style does not fit all.  The only common rule here is that no one has the right to infringe upon the rights of others.  With that foundation, all types of people from all over the world came to live in this country, and continue to do so.  Diversity is one of this country’s strongest values.

That’s why, for instance, there are many sizes and styles in clothing available (that’s obvious I know).  That’s why there are many sizes and styles of residences, cars, computers, phones, hair color, furniture, buildings, etc.  Because one size, or style, doesn’t fit all.   We all have different wants and needs for ourselves and our families.  We go to the church of our choice, or not.  We dress in the style and size of clothing that fits our lifestyles.  We all have different diets.  We entertain ourselves in different ways.  Sure, there are many of these things that we will find we have in common with other people, but it is our choice to make.

Under Obamacare, there is only one choice offered up with four different prices.

The business rule here is, unless you have a guaranteed customer base that cannot buy anything from anyone else, one size does not fit all.  We understand that we offer many options to our customers that are designed to fit their needs and wants.  And we also understand that in a free-market society, if we cannot provide a service or product that a customer needs, they are free to choose to take their business elsewhere.

That’s the beauty of the business world.  We all offer similar or different options to each other as customers, to our customers, thus providing a virtual cornucopia of materials goods and services to sustain and maintain the diversity of our land.

And, I think that’s a good thing.

5.  Obamacare “navigators” or people hired by the federal government to help other people enroll into Obamacare

It was just released and confirmed by the government that the people who are handling enrollees information, including social security numbers, birth dates, and personal health data, could be felons.  See this article.

In the business world, including the insurance and healthcare industries, we go to great lengths to protect private data belonging to a myriad of different types of folks:  businesses we have relationships with, employee data, customer data, and vendor data.  Any private information is encrypted, stored behind secured networked systems, under lock and key, in locked rooms, etc.

The risk the government is taking with the handling of personal private information violates a very basic business rule. This rule is underscored by a myriad number of government rules and regulations, insurance underwriting requirements, and just plain old common sense.

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So, the bottom line is to always deliver on our promises, serve the customer — one at a time, know that one size often doesn’t fit all, protect private data belonging to others, and always provide value to the customer.
How does this relate to choosing one telephone answering service or call center over another?  In every way possible.  A telephone answering service and call center is in the people business.  Representing client companies to their customers, a great telephone answering service and call center knows it has to deliver value and service to not only their own customers, but also to the customers of its customers.  Double-duty, so to speak.  A superior answering service delivers on this promise every day, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year.

This is the foundation of private enterprise, and the foundation upon which all successful businesses are built, maintained, and grown.

Carry on, carry over….

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