Obama administration officials have been getting angry questions from reporters by refusing to even try to estimate how many enrollment forms are going out, or how many of them are right.
HealthCare.gov and the enrollment sites for state-based public exchanges are supposed to send out “834 Initial Enrollment Notification” transaction notices when consumers enroll.
Carriers have reported a high percentage of the 834s seem to be inaccurate, because of problems with the information consumers have entered, information from other sources, or programming errors.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, reported Monday during a conference call with reporters that one new fix – with Social Security numbers – eliminated 80 percent of the mistakes.
But Bataille then refused to answer questions from several reporters about how CMS arrived at the number. Bataille continued to refuse to answer questions about 834 form numbers during media calls Tuesday and Wednesday.
The issue boiled over into Thursday during a White House press briefing, when a reporter told White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, “CMS, in these daily calls, is still very opaque.”
The reporter complained CMS is providing “no information whatsoever” about the magnitude of the 834 problem and asked why the administration is being so reticent.
Carney replied, “To collect data on it is not necessarily as simple as what’s the error rate for this broad array of or series of small problems that may have affected 834 forms. What we know is that there were significant problems with the whole website.”
Bataille came back today with a few more numbers and an explanation for the lack of better numbers.
CMS believes that about 25 percent of the forms sent from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 had errors, and that about 10 percent of the forms now going out have errors, Bataille said.
"This analysis is preliminary," Bataille said. "We do not have precise numbers at this point."
Getting the data is difficult, because CMS and its contractors have to go over the transaction data with each plan issuer to come up with the numbers, Bataille said.
Insurers could have problems with duplicate 834 forms, forms that are passing exchange plan data incorrectly, or forms that are not actually coming from exchange enrollment systems, Bataille said.
In other cases, Bataille said, errors may involve 834 forms that should have been sent but have not been sent.
Bataille said consumers who think they have exchange plan coverage should confirm that by getting into contact with the issuers to pay their bills and by making sure they have received the plan welcome information.