The Obama administration has spent the last few days
touting progress and fixes to HealthCare.gov, the federal health exchange website that has been plagued by dysfunction for most of the two-plus months it’s been online.
But a significant, lingering problem on the back end of the site is still causing complications for insurance companies. And it could provide a rude awakening next month for consumers who thought they purchased a plan through HealthCare.gov.
At issue are “834s,” the enrollment forms sent to insurance companies after a customer enrolls in a plan. Glitches on the site have led to garbled, incomplete, or missing forms. The Washington Post reported Monday night that the issue has affected about one-third of customers. The White House disputed the number, but did not offer one of their own.
In fact, the White House has been mostly reluctant to talk about the issue, beyond acknowledging that it’s a major problem and pledging to fix the issue.
The Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services holds a conference call with reporters daily to provide operational updates on the website. For the past three days, it has stonewalled reporters asking questions about the back-end enrollment issues.
Julie Bataille, a CMS spokeswoman, said Monday that CMS had fixed “one bug” that was responsible for about 80% of the 834 enrollment errors. The bug, she said, prevented a Social Security number from being included in the form.
But she wouldn’t say how many people had been affected, and did not disclose any other “bugs” or errors being worked on. On the conference call, three different reporters asked for hard numbers. Three times, she said she couldn’t provide those numbers — even though, as one of the reporters noted, if the administration fixed 80% of the errors with one bug, it should be able to do the remaining maths.
“That’s the information I’ve got today,” she said at the end of the third reporter’s question on the back-end enrollment issues.
Bataille went on to say that customers should check with their insurance companies to confirm that they have enrolled. She also pledged that the administration would make a “concerted effort” to help consumers on the “next steps.”
Wednesday’s conference call was more of the same. And late Wednesday evening, the CMS released an unusual joint statement with America’s Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry trade group, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. The statement promised progress reports to come, but it didn’t offer any specifics of the issue.
The full statement:
“Ensuring that all Americans who need coverage are properly enrolled is a top priority for all of us. We are working together closely to resolve back-end issues between health plans and HealthCare.gov. This is a very focused effort that is being driven by a team of experts from CMS, key outside contractors working closely with health plan representatives and overseen by CMS’s general contractor, Optum/QSSI. We will report on our progress.”
More people signed up through the federal site on Monday and Tuesday than did in the entire month of November. Over the past three days, the site has seen more than 2.7 million visits. The key question is whether this increasing success with the site’s front-end will be matched with back-end fixes to ensure that enrollments work correctly.
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