December 2, 2013

Year-end signups pose major test for improved health care website

The risk is that some people could end up with a break in their coverage.

By Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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White House spokesman Jay Carney said HealthCare.gov, the federal site serving 36 states, got 375,000 visitors by noon Monday.

The Associated Press

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THE BACK ROOM

Private insurers complain that much of the enrollment information they’ve gotten on individual consumers is practically useless. It is corrupted by errors, duplication or garbles. Efforts to fix underlying problems are underway, but the industry isn’t happy with the progress and is growing increasingly concerned.

Over the weekend, as government officials trumpeted improvements to the website, the leading industry trade group pointedly called attention to the data mess. The president of the largest health insurance trade group said the website fix won’t be complete until the entire system works from end to end. Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, raised the prospect that consumers might not be able to get access to needed benefits Jan. 1.

“There really needs to be an intense focus now on the back end of the process,” said Joel Ario, who oversaw initial planning for the insurance marketplaces in the Obama administration and is now a top consultant with Manatt Health Solutions.

Administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille said that’s already happening. More than 80 percent of insurers’ problems were due to one bug that affected Social Security numbers, she said. That’s been fixed.

CRAFTING A NEW PITCH

Largely because of the federal website problems, major advertising campaigns encouraging everyone from the young and hip to the middle aged and health conscious to enroll have been put on hold.

The worry now is that the technology debacle may have done lasting harm to the outreach plan. And even a revamped website with new bells and whistles is going to have to compete for attention with the year-end holidays.

“The real question in my mind is can they turn around the messaging?” said Caroline Pearson, who is tracking the overhaul for Avalere Health, a market analysis firm. “They’ve had eight weeks of terrible press. Can they begin to reach out with a message of things are fixed and we’re back on track?”

It’s unclear how much candor will creep into the pitch. Some enrollment counselors feel a need to acknowledge the problems.

Looking back on the weeks of failed attempts to enroll people through the marketplace, Spencer, in central Illinois, laments the feelings of broken trust.

“We told them we were here to help them and we (couldn’t) help them,” she said.

Still, some people returned again and again to keep trying to get through the process. “They keep trusting us and they keep coming back,” Spencer said.

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