EDITORIAL: Are you there, Obamacare?

For three months, the Affordable Care Act has been all about website and enrollment glitches, with the former often the cause of the latter. Make no mistake, these problems haven’t gone away just because the calendar turned to Jan. 1, 2014 — when Obamacare officially became the so-called law of the land. But the new year was supposed to bring a new phase of the law: people actually having health insurance.

Whether they do is another question, and for many the answer is “no.” David Martosko, the U.S. political editor for the British publication The Daily Mail, reported that hospital staffers in northern Virginia were turning away sick people on a frigid Thursday morning — one day after the law’s full implementation — because their coverage could not be verified.

“They had no idea if my insurance was active or not,” a coughing Maria Galvez told Mr. Martosko outside the Inova Healthplex facility in Springfield, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Ms. Galvez left the facility without getting a needed chest X-ray, after being told that because she did not yet have her insurance card, she would have to pay the full cost of the procedure, likely more than $500. She said she enrolled in an Obamacare bronze plan ($450 per month) on Dec. 22.

Another woman, requesting anonymity, spoke to Mr. Martosko as she was leaving the Inova Alexandria Hospital in Alexandria, Va. “I had chest pains last night, and they took me in the emergency room. They told me they were going to admit me, but when I told them I hadn’t heard from my insurance company since I signed up, they changed their tune.” She said she was told her bill would go up by at least $3,000 if she were admitted, and she was given the option to leave, which she presumed would not have been offered if she were in real danger.

The fact of the matter for both patients, though, is that even if their policies were verifiable, they very likely still would have had a huge bill to pay. Mr. Martosko reported that Ms. Galvez’s plan has a $5,500 deductible, which she would have to pay out of pocket before coverage would apply to medical expenses — not an unusual scenario with Obamacare exchange plans.

That highlights a correlating issue to verification: People need to have their medical visits reported accurately so they can start paying toward their astronomical deductibles. If those payments are not applied properly, it sets patients up for Obamacare to be even worse, if that’s possible. CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Jodi Granick calculated that as of Monday, at least 2 million people had signed up for Obamacare via HealthCare.gov or state-run exchanges, but estimated that only 70,000 — just 3.5 percent — had actually paid a premium and were officially enrolled.

The immediate result of Obamacare still appears to be an increase in the number of uninsured. Now in Phase 2, it also appears that coverage verification is lacking. If insurers can’t provide verification, the IRS surely can’t determine who has coverage and who’ll be stuck paying a penalty tax. The execution of Obamacare has been completely bungled, through no fault of insurers, who rarely had such verification problems before this law was passed. The blame lies with the Obama administration and all its shifting deadlines, timelines, waivers and delays.

Remember, the Obamacare exchanges still have an undetermined error rate, which means untold thousands of people who have applied for coverage and believe they are enrolled are not. And the White House still won’t report any demographic data on enrollment — only cherry-picked numbers the Obama administration can point to as good news.

It only gets worse from here. To spare the country more pain, Congress should delay Obamacare’s individual mandate for a year, with the goal of eventual repeal.

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