White House relying more on insurance carriers to help fix ObamaCare website

The White House is increasing its reliance on insurers by accepting their technical help in efforts to repair the problem-ridden online health insurance marketplace and prioritizing consumers’ ability to buy plans directly from the carriers.

The Obama administration’s broader cooperation with insurers is a tacit acknowledgment that the federal insurance exchange — fraught with software and hardware flaws that have frustrated many Americans trying to buy coverage — might not be working smoothly by the target date of Nov. 30, according to several health experts familiar with the administration’s thinking…

If insurers’ sites became a main way to buy coverage, it would undermine the side-by-side comparison shopping — as is used on travel Web sites such Kayak — that HealthCare.gov is meant to promote. That’s because individual insurers are not obligated to tell their customers about competing health plans available. They are required only to advise consumers that other plans exist and can be found on HealthCare.gov.

Insurers are eager to take on a larger role. But they, like consumers, have been stymied by the online system’s technical problems. During one step in enrolling customers — determining whether their income qualifies them for government help with paying for health plans — insurers must connect to part of the federal online system, and that part does not work. White House officials and insurance industry leaders have been talking about how to solve this problem, perhaps on a temporary basis, and insurers are insisting that they be allowed to keep any extra subsidy money they might accidentally be paid, said people familiar with these discussions who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitive nature.