The White House has been quick to brag about the last of front-end problems in the ObamaCare exchange this year, but what about the back end? Last year’s debacle on the consumer side eclipsed the problems of managing enrollments with the insurers themselves, which created all sorts of issues when consumers tried to use insurance in which they thought they had enrolled, and for insurers who had trouble getting premium payments for the coverage they thought they had offered. This year, the process looks little changed, and insurers are now extending the deadlines because the Healthcare.gov back end is still not running properly:
Trying to head off a new round of consumer headaches with President Barack Obama’s health care law, the insurance industry said Tuesday it will give customers more time to pay their premiums for January.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main industry trade group, says the voluntary steps include a commitment to promptly refund any overpayments by consumers who switched plans and may have gotten double-billed by mistake.
Though the HealthCare.gov website is working far better this year, the industry announcement highlights behind-the-scenes technical issues between the government and insurers that have proven difficult to resolve. Last year’s enrollment files were riddled with errors, and fixing those has been a painstaking process. As a result, renewing millions of current customers is not as easy as it might seem.
It hasn’t seemed easy at all ever since the government got put in charge of the process. Prior to ObamaCare, insurers operated their own web portals with little trouble. HHS even has a similar system in place with Medicare Advantage that runs well and creates few problems. Despite this, HHS still can’t figure out the back end for ObamaCare, even though it has a smaller number of consumers enrolling in the system.
In fact, the majority of its 6.7 million enrollees are allowing their existing plans to automatically renew, despite warnings that it might leave consumers with a much bigger tax bill for 2015. The AP also warns that the auto-renewal process may be less than smooth in other ways:
Based on early numbers, it’s looking like the majority of the roughly 6.7 million current customers have opted to stay with the plans they have now and be automatically renewed Jan. 1.
Assuring that happens as smoothly as it’s been advertised is the administration’s next major challenge.
Don’t bank on it.
Covered California, one of the most troubled state exchanges, needs more time too:
Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said people who start the application process or make some “good faith effort” by Monday will have until Dec. 21 to finish signing up. Monday at midnight had previously been the hard deadline.
“We are providing this window to get people across the finish line,” Lee said at an exchange board meeting Monday. “We know many of the people applying have never had insurance before, and these are individuals who need to sit down and talk with someone.”
Lee said many insurance agents and enrollment counselors were already fully booked with applicants Monday. He said the deadline extension will allow people to make appointments through Dec. 21.
Meanwhile, the demand for ObamaCare will go up this year, but not because it’s such a great deal for consumers. Small businesses have begun to throw in the towel on coverage as the federal government crowds them out:
Whether to cancel a company plan and let workers buy insurance on healthcare.gov or another online exchange “is something that I would say comes up in every conversation with a small-group” employer, said Adam Berkowitz, a consultant with Caravus, a benefits firm based in St. Louis.
Anthem, the largest seller of small-business health insurance, lost almost 300,000 members in such plans — many more than expected — in the first nine months of the year. That was 15% of the enrollment. Many of those consumers are presumably switching to individual plans sold through exchanges, including those offered by Anthem, officials said.
CNN Money calls this a great deal for employees. If they qualify for federal subsidies, “everybody can win.” Everybody, that is, except for the taxpayers who have to pay the subsidies – and as more employers take this option, the more the entire program will run in the red because of it. That crowd-out factor was part of the objection from ObamaCare opponents, who noted that advocates insisted that the bill would have no impact on current employer-based insurance. As the coverage mandates drives up the premiums, though, the exit of smaller businesses from coverage was very predictable, and will accelerate the accumulation of red ink.