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Tavenner tells Senate about improvements to main ACA website

Wednesday November 6, 2013
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Marilyn Tavenner, RN, BSN, MHA, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, outlined improvements to the new health insurance exchanges during testimony Tuesday, Nov. 5, before a U.S. Senate committee.

The website (www.healthcare.gov) that hosts the exchanges for people in 36 states has been plagued by glitches since the exchanges went online Oct. 1.

The Obama administration has said the site, on which people in the 36 states can compare and purchase individual insurance policies made available through the Affordable Care Act, should be fully functional by the end of November after an intensive, around-the-clock “tech surge.”

Tavenner told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions that the site has improved to the point where it can process almost 17,000 registrations per hour “with almost no errors.” Users should be able to successfully create an account, she said, and viewing and filtering health plans should take seconds. Previously such basic activity could take minutes at a time.

“I would encourage folks, if they have not gone onto the website in the last few days, go onto the website,” Tavenner said.

Tavenner testified the previous week to a committee of the House of Representatives, where Republicans probed for reasons behind the problems with ACA implementation. Although Democrats are the majority in the Senate, Tavenner still faced tough questions Tuesday.

Democrats are concerned the problems with the rollout will hamper enrollment in the new plans, potentially driving up premiums in future years if initial enrollees mostly are older and sicker people. Substantially higher premiums could make the ACA unsustainable. The Congressional Budget Office has projected 7 million people would enroll in the new plans this year.

Although a late-November deadline for boosting the site to full capacity would remove almost two months from the open enrollment period, people still have until March 31 to select and buy a plan.

Tavenner said once the site is operating at full speed, the administration will launch a comprehensive media campaign to encourage younger people to enroll in the new plans. The campaign will encompass TV, radio and print, and focus on specific markets, although Tavenner did not say which markets. The 14 states that have set up their own exchanges, which for the most part have functioned better than Healthcare.gov, will handle their own outreach, she said.

Policy cancellations

The administration also has been dealing with criticism over the cancellation of individual insurance policies that do not meet the standards of coverage set forth in the ACA. President Obama had pledged that people who wanted to keep their insurance could do so under the new law.

“I believe there has been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, cancellation of policies and sticker shock for some people,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., an avowed supporter of the ACA, said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Tavenner said many people whose plans are being canceled will have access to plans that are both better and cheaper because they will qualify for federal subsidies in the exchanges. She added that administration officials are seeking a way to “actively engage” consumers whose plans have been canceled.

People whose insurance policies are being canceled are among those who might want to sign up for a new plan before the March 31 end of open enrollment. To have a new policy that takes effect by Jan. 1, the earliest date for insurance coverage under the ACA, they would need to be able to enroll by Dec. 15.


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