Blog PostDecember 18, 2013

Obamacare Countdown: One Week to First Major Enrollment Deadline

For tens of thousands of Americans, the race to complete Obamacare enrollments is on.

Author: Devin Dwyer

Publication: ABC News


Just under a week from today, by 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 23, anyone seeking health insurance coverage effective Jan. 1, must have completed an application, chosen a plan and transmitted that enrollment form to their selected issuer.

The deadline looms large for the roughly 1.9 million people who have made it deep into the process — completing an application and receiving an eligibility determination —  but not yet selected a particular plan, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Many of these consumers have been hamstrung by glitches and delays at every turn and are simply stuck in limbo.

Only 365,000 Americans had successfully signed up for plans in the state or federal insurance marketplaces through Nov. 30.  The Congressional Budget Office projected 7 million people would enroll by March 31, 2014.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) said Monday it is surging staff at call centers and in-person assistance locations to help relieve gridlocked applications and respond to an expected uptick in new enrollees. The agency said the online and phone systems are now working smoothly for those who try.

Meanwhile, a small army of contractors, insurance administrators and government staff are going case by case, by hand, through tens of thousands of enrollments that either never got sent to insurance companies or were seriously flawed in October and November.

Roughly 15,000 Americans whose records never made it to the insurance company because of glitches on have been contacted, according to CMS, but no word on how many have successfully enrolled.

“All of those individuals have heard directly from the federal marketplace at this point,” said CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille. In addition, as many as 35,000 applications may have been riddled with errors.

The administration last week turned over its massive, raw enrollment data files from the website to all 300 participating insurance companies, Bataille said. The insurers can now see who selected their plans online and reconcile that list with the formal enrollment records generated by the system.

“They are also reaching out directly over the course of the next few days and this week to make sure that they can verify information with the consumers and get them successfully enrolled,” Bataille said.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the leading industry advocacy group, told ABC News on Monday that the data files have been “helpful,” for the first time giving a “clear picture of the size and scope of the technical challenges that existed.”

“The process CMS put in place to address these back-end challenges is making a difference, and we are seeing improvements every day,” said AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach. “But we’re not where we need to be. More work still needs to be done to make sure these people can have confidence and peace of mind come January.”

Is there a chance some people snagged by errors won’t be covered on Jan. 1?  “We hope not,” he said. “We want to avoid that situation if at all possible.”

One footnote for those still hoping to apply by mail: Your deadline for January coverage may have already passed. While top administration officials have pushed multiple avenues of enrollment, CMS said Monday that it cannot guarantee applicants by mail will get enrolled in time. It takes three to five days to process an application for eligibility, not including time spent in the mail or selecting a plan.