HealthCare.gov war room exposed problems

Gary Cohen (CMS photo) Gary Cohen (CMS photo)

The managers of HealthCare.gov feared early on that adding capacity to solve traffic issues would highlight even more problems.

Officials at the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency directly responsible for overseeing the exchanges, talk about the problems in “CCIIO-Wide War Room Notes.”

HealthCare.gov went live Oct. 1.

The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee posted the CCIIO HealthCare.gov war room notes on the Web late Thursday.

HHS officials have repeatedly declined to provide detailed federal exchange application or enrollment data, saying they have no confirmed, reliable information.

House Oversight officials note in a comment on the war room notes that, as of Oct. 3, HealthCare.gov users finished fewer than 250 enrollment transactions.

But the notes’ authors focused more on listing problems and describing efforts to address them.

On the afternoon of Oct. 2, for example, consumer traffic remained high, the system crawled along, and managers reported as many as 40,000 in the “waiting room.”

A mechanism allowing carriers to enroll consumers directly wasn’t working either.

For consumers who managed to set up accounts, choose health plans, and get to the point of paying for coverage, the “Pay Now” page displayed carrier phone numbers incorrectly.

Managers also talked about identity verification problems for both shoppers and would-be agents.

State-based exchanges have their own enrollment sites but use the HHS “data services hub” to verify applicants’ identities and eligibility. The hub’s tied to Experian.

By Oct. 2, five or six state-based exchanges were reporting problems with the Experian identity-proofing system.

Officials hadn’t heard of problems with identity proofing at the 36 run by HHS, but they thought it might be because of the site’s capacity problems.

HHS officials said in early October that the HealthCare.gov launch would proceed in spite of the partial government shutdown resulting from the protracted budget battle.

Officials reported in the Oct. 2 note that shutdown-related furloughs had affected the launch, furloughing most plan management account managers. The exchange team was “setting up a dedicated line to take calls and triage information” in response to the lack of program account managers, officials said.

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