White House, Insurers Mull Alternatives to ACA Exchange Website
The Obama administration and insurers are discussing several strategies to make it easier for U.S. residents to enroll in health plans in light of the problems with the federal insurance exchange website, the Wall Street Journal reports (Radnofsky/Nelson, Wall Street Journal, 11/18).
Under current rules, insurers are allowed to enroll individuals who do not qualify for federal subsidies, but those who are eligible must go through the exchanges to be verified (Novack, National Journal, 11/18).
During a press conference Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, "We are having conversations with insurers all the time about that and other issues. All with the goal of maximizing the options available to Americans when it comes to enrolling in and purchasing quality, affordable ... health insurance." He added, "But we have to make sure that there are other means available for the American people, even as we make improvements to the website" (Easley, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/18).
Some observers have raised concerns that allowing insurers to directly enroll consumers would undermine the purpose of the exchanges because consumers might lose the ability to compare plans from competing insurers. In addition, insurers have expressed concern allowing them to enroll individuals with federal subsidies, noting that they would need an accurate and binding tool to calculate enrollees' subsidy eligibility.
An administration official told the Wall Street Journal that consumers eligible for income-based subsidies would still have to be verified through the federal database, regardless of any changes made to the enrollment process (Wall Street Journal, 11/18).
White House Says 80% is New Standard for HealthCare.gov
Meanwhile, the White House on Monday said HealthCare.gov would be considered a success if 80% of online visitors are able to purchase coverage, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
According to "Healthwatch," the figure represents the "vast majority of users" that administration officials hope will be able to access the website by the end of November, which is when HHS says the majority of repairs will be completed. The 80% mark is the first official benchmark set for the website's success, according to "Healthwatch" (Shabad, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/18).
During the press conference, Carney said that HealthCare.gov would be "vastly improved" on Dec. 1 (Wall Street Journal, 11/18).
However, he said one in five visitors to the site still will not be able to enroll in coverage because of:
- Technical difficulties with the site;
- Personal unfamiliarity with computers; or
- Complex family situations (Eilperin, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 11/18).
Navigators Report Website Progress
In related news, workers helping consumers sign up for coverage through HealthCare.gov on Monday reported improvements in using the site, Reuters reports (Skinner, Reuters, 11/18).
Since the start of open enrollment, 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 website's technology problems (McKinney, Modern Healthcare, 10/17). The errors had caused some navigators to use paper forms to determine consumers' eligibility for subsidies. The paper-based process can take up to 10 weeks (Skinner, Reuters, 10/17).
Rachel Udow -- program director for MHP, a community-based organization focused on migrant issues in Weslaco, Texas -- said, "Saturday was the first day that I was actually able to get someone through the entire process on the website." She added, "And I know on Saturday that wasn't the case for everyone on my team, but more and more consistently we're having success with it."
Laura Line, corporate assistant director of health care at the Philadelphia-based Resources for Human Development, said, "We've had more completed online enrollments in the last week or so than probably all the weeks before combined, and we're pretty excited about that."
Other navigators said they continue to experience problems with the site (Reuters, 11/18)
Zients Touts Website Progress
In other related news, Jeffrey Zients, a former White House official who is overseeing the repair efforts for HealthCare.gov, said that the website's "error rate is now lower than 1% thanks to weeks' worth of special improvements were made," Roll Call's "Wonk Wire" reports.
Zients said the next priority is increasing the system's capacity, which is currently handling 20,000 to 25,000 users at one time. He noted that there were no unscheduled outages on the site in the past week and that more than 60 bugs have been fixed (Goddard, "Wonk Wire," Roll Call, 11/18).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.