Nahu.org News Gathering
Over the weekend through Monday, several outlets carried coverage of the ongoing troubles with the new Federal marketplace website, healthcare.gov. Several also focused on questions surrounding enrollment figures in the exchange.
In a front page story Sunday, the New York Times (10/13, A1, Pear, LaFraniere, Austen, Subscription Publication) offered a highly negative portrait of a range of problems behind the Federally run Affordable Care Act insurance exchange website, describing it as still troubled after two weeks amid a “growing national outcry” that “has deeply embarrassed the White House.” The Times also describes concerns – including at HHS – prior to the roll-out of the $400 million system and covers “a series of missteps – financial, technical and managerial – that led to the troubles.” Political pressure played a role as well, the Times says. It explores some steps in more depth, including delayed specifications for the system that depended on regulations, and the “highly unusual decision” to have CMS act as “project quarterback, responsible for making sure each separately designed database and piece of software worked with the others, instead of assigning that task to a lead contractor.”
The Washington Post (10/13, Sun, Somashekhar) reported that what had “been considered Plan B” for Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges “has become the plan,” namely to use paper applications for insurance and bypass the websites “altogether.” The Post says the “slow and labor-intensive substitute for what was supposed to be a snappy online application” may create “significant consequences” through delays and other complications in what “was supposed to be one-stop shopping.” The Post notes the problems affect the federally run exchange and some in the states.
In a 2,000 word story, Politico (10/13, Norman, Millman) laid out what could happen if the Federally run Affordable Care Act website for insurance isn’t fixed in short order, based on multiple sources’ insights and opinions. A key concern is that “each step ahead in the process – filling out applications, checking on subsidies and selecting a health insurance plan – creates a potential technology choke point” that could require fixes. One technologist, Dan Schyler of Leavitt Partners, who helped design Utah’s site, says a “grave concern” is that people simply may not have insurance by Jan. 1. He says “there’s a small window” for HHS to fix the site. Politico covers additional angles and recaps problems to date, adding that “whatever the cause of the problems, the first 10 days have given plenty of fuel to the GOP complaint that Obamacare wasn’t ready for prime time.”
The Washington Post (10/12, Goldstein, Cha) reported on “a separate set of computer defects” than those reported already for the federally run insurance exchange. The Post says that “even when consumers have been able to sign up, insurers sometimes can’t tell who their new customers are.” Moreover, daily reports sent to insurers “in some cases” say “that the same person enrolled and canceled several times on a single day.” Electronic files also “are missing a critical element” of a time stamp to show “whether a consumer’s last step on the site was to actually sign up.” The Post says such problems show that the site “is bedeviled by problems that go beyond what the Obama Administration has acknowledged.”
The AP (10/12) reported that it is “virtually impossible to say” whether the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges are succeeding after a week because HHS hasn’t released any enrollment totals for the federally run exchange, while “the situation isn’t much better” in 36 states running their own. The AP says that total applications are “zero” in Oregon and Colorado, Minnesota won’t release totals until Wednesday, and “Vermont’s system is so buggy that officials are issuing paper applications.” States that released totals for part of last week included Kentucky, which reported 18,351, New York, with 40,000, and California, with 16,300. The AP adds, however, that “industry insiders say the enrollment system is starting to work more smoothly.”
The Hill (10/12, Viebeck) “Healthwatch” blog reported that HHS said Friday that the federally run insurance exchange had 14.6 million unique visitors in the first 10 days, although “the department did not release the number of people who have actually enrolled in the marketplaces despite requests from reporters.” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in a statement that consumers would likely take time to look at different options “before making a decision.”
Similarly, the Miami Herald (10/13, Boorns, Chang) reported that “nearly two weeks after” the launch of HealthCare.gov, “individuals who have successfully used the choked-up website to enroll for a subsidized health insurance plan have reached a status akin to urban legend: Everyone has heard of them, but very few people have actually met one.” The Herald says it “searched high and low for individuals who completed enrollment for a subsidized health plan through the marketplace.” But as of Friday, “only a smattering of success stories had emerged in news reports.”
Reuters (10/12, Humer) reported on the pricing consumers are seeing, when they “are able to check out new insurance plans launched” on October 1.
Other outlets reporting over the weekend included Politico (10/11, Nather), the Huffington Post (10/13), The Hill (10/14, Becker, Baker) “Healthwatch” blog, another piece in The Hill (10/14, Viebeck) “Healthwatch” blog, The Washington Times (10/11, Wetzstein), Healthcare IT News (10/11, Miliard), the NPR (10/12, Gold) “Shots” blog, and the New York Daily Intelligencer (10/14, Bankoff).
Administration Working To Make HealthCare.gov Easier To Use. The Hill (10/12, Viebeck) “Healthwatch” blog reported that Federal health officials “might rebuild part of ObamaCare’s online enrollment portal this weekend to make it easier to use.” It says the changes would be “to the registration system” within “the next few days.” It also notes that HealthCare.gov “unveiled a new online estimate tool” for insurance that allows users to check on prices without creating an account, which “proved problematic in the last week.”
The Huffington Post (10/11, Young) reported that HealthCare.gov “is slowly getting more functional.” On Thursday, the website “quietly added a feature on Thursday enabling shoppers to review insurance premiums after entering some basic information.”
State Exchanges Seeing Varied Success, Issues. A number of regional sources carry reports on the marketplace from the perspective of various states. For example, the AP (10/13, Karoub) reports that Adnan Hammad, community health director at the Dearborn-based nonprofit ACCESS, says that despite technical problems with the online health insurance marketplaces, “his staff has helped hundreds of people enroll in plans under the federal health care overhaul and educated thousands about the options.” Hammad said that since the launch of the online marketplaces, there has been a steady improvement, and “ACCESS has boosted the hours of the workers dubbed ‘navigators’ to keep up with demand.”
The Miami Herald (10/14, Chang) reports that the success of the Affordable Care Act “will be critical for Florida, where an estimated 3.8 million people lived without health insurance in 2011,” around a quarter of the state’s population. The piece then delves into specifics about how to find insurance on the exchanges and what consumers should do.
The New York Times (10/13, Aaronson, Subscription Publication) carried a Texas Tribune report on the importance of Latinos signing up on Texas’ exchange, noting that “advocates across the state have encountered common obstacles in getting Latinos registered, including limited access to computers and the lack of an e-mail address.”
USA Today (10/12, O’Donnell) reported on efforts to “push” the Affordable Care Act in Philadelphia, the country’s “poorest big city.”
The Daily Caller (10/11, Peterson) reported that Maryland residents accounted for only a small percentage “of the abysmal number of Obamacare signups during the first week,” with MarylandHealthConnection.gov producing 326 successful enrollees. It cites other media coverage and says that Delaware had had none, while California “reportedly only enrolled between 16,000 and 28,000 people in the first week,” which means “it would take the Golden State between five and more than eight years to enroll its entire uninsured population of 7.1 million.” The Daily Caller says that HHS Secretary Sebelius “has remained cagey” about the Federally run website’s results.
Other regional outlets carrying reports include the Miami Herald (10/14, Borns) and the Tampa Bay (FL) Times (10/11, Bule) in Florida, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (10/12, Marley), the Green Bay (WI) Press-Gazette (10/12, Ryman), and the AP (10/14) in Wisconsin, the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (10/14, Sciarrino) and another piece from the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (10/14, Goldberg) in New Jersey, the Savannah (GA) Morning News (10/12) in Georgia, the Des Moines (IA) Register (10/13, Leys) in Iowa, the Charleston (WV) Gazette (10/12, Cook) in West Virginia, the Marysville (CA) Appeal-Democrat (10/14) and the San Jose (CA) Mercury News (10/12, Seipel) in California, The State (SC) (10/11, Holleman) in South Carolina, the Roanoke (VA) Times (10/14, Hammack) in Virginia, the Tampa Bay (FL) Times (10/12, Leary) in Florida, the Wilmington (DE) News Journal (10/12, Miller) in Delaware, Crain’s Detroit Business (10/13) in Michigan, the Baltimore Sun (10/12, Cohn) in Maryland, the Waco (TX) Tribune-Herald (10/14, Butts) and the Dallas Morning News (10/14, Reports) in Texas, and the Kaiser Health News (10/14, Applebt) in Virginia.