Industry insider: Insurers skeptical that ObamaCare website will be ready by December 1st

A new dispatch from health-industry consultant Bob Laszewski, who’s one of the many millions to have discovered recently that he can’t keep a plan he liked a lot. HHS is a black box on the progress of the website so we’re forced to rely on anecdotes, but there’s no reason to think Laszewski’s sources are unrepresentative. His criticisms of the site have been borne out so far. And if he’s right that December 1st seems unlikely as a target date to debut the new and improved, Obama’s got a major problem.

Marilyn Tavenner, the head of CMS, told a Senate panel full of nervous Democrats today that “by the end of November the experience on the site will be smooth for the vast majority of users.” We’ll see.

Enrollments continue to trickle in. Health plans, with the kind of market share that would have to sign-up 100,000 to 200,000 people for the administration to hit its goal of 7 million people, are generally reporting they have enrolled only about 100 – 200 people over the first 35 days via…

Health plans are separately enrolling more people on their own sites and through their call centers in great part because of all of the cancellation letters they have recently sent out. Existing customers worried about facing a lapse in coverage are calling in. Many health plans are offering the “early renewal option” to these cancelled customers, which lets people keep their plan but only until December of 2014. I continue to hear that an overwhelming number of existing customers are opting to keep their current plan versus taking an Obamacare compliant plan from the carrier––an interesting outcome given that so many of these plans are said to be “substandard.”

The Obama administration finally seems to have a strong group of experienced managers in charge of fixing I don’t mean to pile anymore bad news on them then they already have. But I also have to report that the confidence that this can all get fixed by December 1 is not high among the people on the other end of those 834 transactions.

“834 transactions” refers to the information that’s sent from to an insurance company after someone signs up for a plan on the website. The biggest problem with the site right now, even more than the endless glitches in trying to create an account, is that the information being forwarded to insurers in the 834 process is often garbled or incomplete. Until that back-end part is fixed, the White House can’t fix the front end to make it easier for people to sign up; otherwise garbled enrollments will start flooding in to insurers and they’ll have to sort out the resulting mess.

The significance of December 1st is that it’s just two weeks before the December 15th deadline for people to enroll if they want their coverage to begin on January 1 next year. If the site’s still buggy at that point, the big post-Thanksgiving surge in enrollments by healthy people that the White House is counting on will be all but impossible, which means insurers will start next year with lots of sick people newly enrolled and few healthy ones to help cover their cost. It also means that the millions who have had their coverage dropped are at risk of starting the year without insurance because they can’t get the damned website to work long enough for them to sign up. The “early renewal option” Laszewski mentions will solve that problem for some people, but not every insurer will offer it. Crunch time for The One, then: What does he do on December 1st if we’re still stuck in 404 hell? Allow insurers to bring back plans that have been canceled under the new ObamaCare regs? Extend the enrollment deadline next year from March 31st to some later date, which raises the risk of adverse selection problems for insurers? Delay the entire law until HHS gets its act together? Nothing but bad options here as far as the eye can see. And lest you doubt that Laszewski’s sources are right to be skeptical about December 1st, ask yourself why Obama would be wasting valuable “sign up!” cheerleading time this month on unrelated crap if he didn’t agree. He knows it won’t be ready soon. No sense spending more time and political capital on it until it is.

While we’re waiting for the “tech surge” to work miracles, enjoy this new report from the AP about the White House begging for help from the same industry they’ve spent the last few weeks scapegoating to excuse Obama’s big “if you like your plan” lie. Yesterday’s spin: We had to pass ObamaCare to protect the public from “bad apple” insurance companies and their “cut-rate” plans. Today’s spin: Help us, insurance companies, you’re our only hope.

The White House is asking insurance companies to explain to Americans the cancellation letters they’re receiving in the mail.

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, met Tuesday with CEOs from some of the largest health insurers. The White House says McDonough updated the CEOs on fixes to and problems with enrollment data sent electronically to insurers. McDonough also solicited input on whether the system is getting better.

The White House says McDonough urged insurance companies to “ramp up communication and education efforts” to those who have lost their insurance.

Good luck educating someone on the glories of ObamaCare when you’ve just told him he’s being booted from an affordable plan he liked to one that’s more “comprehensive” than he needs and more expensive than he can manage. In fact, having seen photos of various cancellation notices people have received, I note that they almost uniformly mention that the plan’s cancellation is due to the Affordable Care Act. They’d have no strong incentive to do that if they thought people would be happy about being “upgraded” to a new plan on the exchanges; if anything, they’d want to downplay the new law’s role in all this and treat it as some sort of initiative undertaken by the company itself to help its customers seek better, more affordable coverage. But they know how the cancellation notice will be received so they’re careful to blame the ACA for it, not themselves. No one wants to hold the hot potato.

Via the Corner, here’s Jim Moran wondering if Obama’s big lie maybe wasn’t just “a little hyperbole” he engaged in a few hundred times because he was super-excited about America’s new health-care regime or something. This must be the first time a Democrat’s ever used Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech as a yardstick for mild, unfortunate, yet well-meaning exaggerations. Exit question: Are we really going to get the ObamaCare enrollment numbers next week? Or are we going to get a big hash that does nothing to tell us how many people have enrolled in the exchanges versus how many have enrolled in Medicaid?

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