When the administration’s self-imposed deadline to have the site working for the “vast majority” of Americans hit Sunday, t
he administration unsurprisingly declared it a success and said they’ve upheld that promise.
They say the site can handle up to 50,000 concurrent users and 800,000 in a single day. Once the number of users surpasses 50,000 – as happened yesterday – a queue forms and allows people to receive an email when they can return and access the exchange. However, yesterday that queue began forming before the site hit 40,000 users. In addition, the White House touts that load times and error rates are both down considerably.
That’s all great and anecdotal evidence from the first day seems to indicate that more users can successfully access the site and sign up for a plan.
But there is a major problem lurking in the background that the administration has refused to address: the back-end errors.
When the site launched on October 1st, it wasn’t just consumers having problems and receiving error messages. Insurers were too. In order for the law to work, the exchange website must pass on information on what plans people sign up for to insurance companies. This comes in the form of 834 transmissions. But when the site went live, there were numerous problems with these 834s. Some people were signed up multiple times. Others received confirmation from healthcare.gov that they had signed up for a plan, but that information was never passed on to the insurance company. Other 834s had inaccurate data. If these back-end problems were not fixed, the site still wouldn’t be functional no matter how good the consumer experience.
The errors, if not corrected, mean that tens of thousands of consumers are at risk of not having coverage when the insurance goes into effect Jan. 1, because the health plans they picked do not yet have accurate information needed to send them a bill.
Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spokeswoman Julie Bataille told reporters yesterday that an error causing 80 per cent of the issues with 834 reports had been fixed. That’s good news, but Bataille refused to comment on how many completed signups had already been affected or how many Americans could face an unwelcome surprise in January when they find out that their insurer has no record of them purchasing a plan. She did stress that people should call their insurers to confirm they paid their first month’s premium.
Until the administration has cleared up all of these back-end errors, the website still doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter how easy the site is for consumers to navigate or how many concurrent users it can handle. If insurers are receiving inaccurate 834 transmissions or aren’t receiving signup information at all, then the website doesn’t function properly. It’s certainly possible that CMS has cleared up the majority of these errors, but they have been reluctant to answer any questions regarding the 834 forms, a sign that back-end issues may still exist.
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