Sebelius Slammed by GOP for Not Testifying About Exchange Issues
On Thursday, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius criticizing her decision not to testify before the panel about problems with the Affordable Care Act's federally run health insurance exchange, Reuters reports (Morgan, Reuters, 10/17).
The letter follows other attempts by Republicans to seek information from Sebelius and two HHS contractors -- CGI and Quality Software Services, which played key roles in the development of HealthCare.gov and a new exchange data hub -- about the problems.
During a hearing before the panel's health subcommittee in September, representatives of CGI, QSSI and two other federal contractors -- among six that were hired to develop the exchange website -- said they were confident that the portal would be adequately tested and ready ahead of open enrollment (California Healthline, 10/11).
In their latest letter, GOP committee members noted that on Wednesday they received word that Sebelius would not be able to attend an Oct. 24 hearing, to which she had been invited (Morgan, Reuters, 10/17). They wrote, "We believe the American people deserve answers to important questions related to the Department's implementation of the exchanges, and a failure to appear voluntarily to discuss the law's unfolding challenges would only deepen our concerns."
In a statement, Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, "Either the administration was not ready for launch, or it was not up to the job." He added, "The president and top officials were quick to boast the number of visitors to HealthCare.gov, but they have since gone silent, refusing to disclose even basic enrollment figures" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/17).
Navigators Hampered by Technology Issues
In related news, community organizations and not-for-profit groups that received navigator grants to help consumers enroll in exchange plans have been hampered by the federal exchange's technology problems, Modern Healthcare reports.
Vicki Tucci -- lead navigator and an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County in Florida -- said the issues have forced her team to reschedule appointments. She noted that consumers have expressed frustration at not being able to browse plan choices and enroll but said that most have shown a willingness to return when the problems have been fixed. In the meantime, Tucci said her team is focusing on outreach, such as handing out fliers and brochures and attending speaking events (McKinney, Modern Healthcare, 10/17).
Meanwhile, the errors have caused some navigators to turn to paper forms to determine consumers' eligibility for subsidies. However, they note that the process can take up to 10 weeks from start to finish.
Experts say the Obama administration has until mid-November to address the federal portal's problems before it risks the ability of an estimated seven million people to enroll in coverage that would start Jan. 1, 2014 (Skinner, Reuters, 10/17).
Errors Persist, Suggest Larger Problems
However, more than two weeks after the launch of the exchanges, insurers continue to report errors with the federally run exchange that appear to extend beyond website traffic and software issues that HHS officials have identified as the main source of the problems, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Insurance executives from more than a dozen companies say the exchange has been providing them with flawed data, such as:
- Duplicate enrollments;
- Missing data fields;
- Spouses reported as children; and
- Suspect eligibility determinations.
These issues follow a technical bottleneck last week that blocked consumers from accessing the marketplace.
Estimates from the analytics firm comScore show that about 25% of 209,000 users who began to register on HealthCare.gov on Monday or Tuesday were able to complete the process, compared with about 10% who did so in the first week.
HHS repeatedly has declined to provide details on the rollout, including specific glitches, enrollment numbers and its plans to fix the problems, the Journal reports. On Thursday, an HHS spokesperson said the department is working "aggressively to address" individual problems as they are reported by insurers (Weaver/Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 10/17).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.