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Obama administration touts improvement to insurance exchanges

Tuesday December 3, 2013
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The Obama administration said improvements to www.Healthcare.gov should allow most people to find and purchase health insurance with no glitches.

Technical problems had made the site difficult or impossible to use for most people since the Oct. 1 launch of the new health insurance exchanges, part of the Affordable Care Act.

In mid-October the administration set a goal of the end of November to make the site operable for the vast majority of users. Speaking Dec. 1, officials said they had met that deadline, although they admitted the site would not work perfectly for everyone.

The exchanges are designed to allow people who do not have insurance through their employers and who are not on Medicare or Medicaid to buy individual insurance policies that meet the standards of the ACA.

Most Americans who do not already have insurance must enroll in a policy by March 31 or owe a penalty. People who want insurance to kick in by Jan. 1 have until Dec. 23 of this year to enroll.

Healthcare.gov hosts the exchanges for the 36 states that chose not to run their own. The exchanges in the states that launched their own generally have performed better than the federal exchange.

Insurers say improving the usability of the site does not solve all the problems. Other lingering technical issues involve the transmission of people's information to insurance companies and processing of premium payments.

"Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage," Karen Ignagni, CEO of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, said in a written statement. "In addition to fixing the technical problems with healthcare.gov, the significant 'back-end' issues must also be resolved to ensure that coverage can begin on Jan. 1, 2014."

On Monday, Dec. 2, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said a new fix would solve 80% of the problems preventing information from reaching ensurers. But that won't help people who already have completed the process and whose information has not reached insurers, so a CMS spokeswoman encouraged people in that situation to call their insurer and confirm their enrollment.

Progress report: www.hhs.gov/digitalstrategy/sites/digitalstrategy/files/pdf/healthcare.gov-progress-report.pdf

Court hearing

In other ACA news, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases by two plaintiffs seeking to challenge the requirement for employers to offer insurance plans that cover the full cost of contraceptives.

The plaintiffs have stated the requirement violates their right to religious liberty. A ruling in their favor would alter the package of essential benefits that are mandatory for insurance plans under the ACA.


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