Sebelius Updates House Lawmakers on HealthCare.gov
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday told House lawmakers that HealthCare.gov is functioning significantly better because of the "relentless" efforts over the past several weeks to resolve the technical issues that plagued the federal health insurance exchange website, the Washington Post reports.
During a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Sebelius acknowledged that the initial launch of the website was "flawed, frustrating and unacceptable" and noted that HHS will be investigating the issues (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 12/11).
She also said that newly released enrollment data for HealthCare.gov show that the technical fixes are working and described the revamped website as "very positive" for users (Pear, New York Times, 12/11).
Sebelius said, "Now that the website is working more smoothly, I've determined it's the right time to begin a process of better understanding the structural and managerial policies that led to the flawed launch so we can take action to avoid these problems in the future." Hours before appearing at the hearing, Sebelius announced in a blog post that she has ordered an investigation into the development process of HealthCare.gov.
She also told lawmakers that the Obama administration through the end of October spent $319 million on information technology related to HealthCare.gov, up from the $174 million figure that she cited during testimony before the committee on Oct. 30 (Washington Post, 12/11).
HHS Relies on Manual Workaround, Sebelius Says
In her testimony Wednesday, Sebelius acknowledged that more work remains to ensure that HealthCare.gov works well, adding that HHS is manually fixing thousands of flawed enrollment forms that were sent from the portal to insurers in October and November, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports. "We are in the process of actually hand-matching individuals to insurance companies," she said (Easley, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/11).
Sebelius added, "It just will be manual until the automation is fully complete and we've tested it and make sure it works. But in the meantime, the payment system will absolutely go forward" (Morgan, Reuters, 12/11). She also said the marketplace's financial management system that transfers payments to insurers is "in the process of being put together" and would be ready by mid-January (New York Times, 12/11).
GOP Members Slam Exchange Rollout, ACA; Democrats Defend Law
During the hearing, some GOP lawmakers questioned Sebelius about the troubled launch of the federal exchange website, the new enrollment figures and the broader effects of the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said he had concerns about the authenticity of the latest enrollment data because Sebelius was unable to verify whether the data meant that consumers had secured their enrollment by paying their first month's premiums. He said, "When Amazon.com records a book sold, they record a book sold based on someone who has paid for it, not what is in their shopping cart, not what is on their wish list." He added, "So our concern is this 365,000 figure is fraudulent because it is not those who have purchased plans yet" (Reuters, 12/11).
When Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) asked if she would have delayed the Oct. 1 launch date for HealthCare.gov, Sebelius responded, "On balance, I am not sure what the right answer is." However, later in the hearing Sebelius said, "I would have done a slower launch, maybe with fewer people and perhaps more beta testing."
Meanwhile, panel Democrats defended the law, arguing that its benefits are emerging now that the bulk of the repairs to the exchange website have been made.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "We're beginning to hear the stories of people finally getting the security and peace of mind that comes with quality health insurance," adding that some of the stories are "very powerful" (Washington Post, 12/11).
Experts Predict Enrollment Surge
In related news, health care analysts say they expect to see a surge in enrollment in the ACA's exchanges, particularly among those who are eligible for federal subsidies, USA Today reports.
According to USA Today, about 50% of the 1.9 million people who checked their eligibility for enrollment in the federal or state exchanges during the first two months found that are eligible for the subsidies.
Matt Eyles, executive vice president of Avalere Health, said, "The expectation is that it would be between 80% and 90%," meaning there remains a large pool of potential customers who could enroll in insurance in the coming weeks and months" (Kennedy, USA Today, 12/11).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.