ACA Contractors Confident Exchanges Will Launch on Time
In testimonies before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Tuesday, representatives of four CMS contractors involved in developing and implementing the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges expressed confidence that the online marketplaces will be ready by the Oct.1 launch of open enrollment, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
During the hearing, the four witnesses assured the committee's Republicans -- who are among a large group of GOP lawmakers who has expressed concern about the privacy of consumers' data in the exchanges -- that the marketplaces will have strong safeguards to protect the personal data (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/10).
Cheryl Campbell -- a senior vice president at CGI Federal, which is building the federally run marketplace -- said her company has successfully met all the key milestones under its contract, including an operational readiness review this month.
Two other representatives -- from Equifax Workforce Solutions, which will provide income verification services for the exchanges, and Serco, which will provide support services for determining subsidy eligibility -- said their companies are also on track to roll out their respective services within the next three weeks.
At the end of the hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the witness testimonies will help "deflate the overheated Republican rhetoric of a coming health care apocalypse" (Ethridge, CQ Roll Call, 9/10).
Observer Warns No State 'Completely Ready,' Predicts 'Rocky' Open Enrollment Period
However at the same hearing, Brett Graham of the consulting firm Leavitt Partners -- which has helped with the design and development of some state exchanges and is tracking the progress of the exchanges -- said that while states should be able to provide "baseline functionality," most states likely will experience a "rocky enrollment period" (Morgan, Reuters, 9/10). He said that "there is not a single state that is completely ready for open enrollment three weeks away" (CQ Roll Call, 9/10).
According to Graham, some states -- which he declined to identify -- are facing challenges with integrating new exchange technology with their existing systems, including Medicaid. He added that there has been insufficient exchange testing with "stakeholder" platforms and the federal data hub. As a result of these technological difficulties, Graham predicted slow enrollment, a greater potential for fraud and abuse, and delays in determining the eligibility of applicants.
He said several states have had to cut back on planned functions of their exchanges to meet the Oct. 1 deadline, such as:
- Limiting web access;
- Choosing manual processing on some functions;
- Removing online chatting tools for consumer assistance; and
- Reducing foreign language access (Reuters, 9/10).
According to CQ Roll Call, Republicans on the subcommittee echoed Graham's doubts that the marketplaces would launch on time. Subcommittee Chair Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said he is "a little skeptical this system can actually function ... given the myriad of missed deadlines by the administration," adding, "I'm afraid this Rube Goldberg experiment will not end well" (CQ Roll Call, 9/10).
Administration: Exchanges 'Data Hub' Ready
Meanwhile, a top Obama administration official on Tuesday said that work on the federal "data hub" for the exchanges has been completed, the Washington Post reports (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 9/10).
The data hub was developed to connect federal agencies with state-operated exchanges. It will be used to verify exchange applicants' income information with the Internal Revenue Service and then transmit verifications back to the marketplaces. The hub also aims to relay information between the exchanges and other federal agencies, such as Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security.
Problems facing the data emerged after a report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General concluded that CMS still had "several critical tasks" to complete ahead of the Oct. 1 launch of the hub. The report noted that the agency missed several self-imposed deadlines for testing the security of the technology and data systems that will be used by the state and federal insurance exchanges. As a result of the delays, CMS' chief information officer was expected to certify the security of the hub on Sept. 30, one day before the exchanges open for enrollment (California Healthline, 8/13).
However on Tuesday, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said that the necessary testing was completed on Friday. "After over two years of work, [the hub] is built and ready for operation, and we have completed security testing and certification to operate," Park said, adding, "This is an important step in being ready for open enrollment on Oct. 1." (Washington Post, 9/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.