U.S. health officials have reported no technical problems thus far, though some state-run insurance exchanges, including Washington and California, had difficulties.
By Alex Wayne|November 17, 2014 at 05:44 AM
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Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) — Obamacare’s second year of enrollment began with only scattered glitches, buoying officials who seek to further reduce the portion of Americans without health insurance. The federal enrollment system was working well enough that 100,000 people submitted applications on the first day, Nov. 15, U.S. Health Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” It’s a dramatic turnabout from 2013, when healthcare.gov collapsed on its first day of business, costing Burwell’s predecessor her job. U.S. health officials have reported no technical problems thus far, though some state-run insurance exchanges, including Washington and California, had difficulties. The Obama administration aims to add at least 2 million people to the 7.1 million already enrolled in plans established by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The enrollment period ends Feb. 15. “When we encountered glitches, they were small and easily remedied,” said Ken Fasola, president and chief executive officer of HealthMarkets Inc., a network of about 3,000 insurance agents based in North Richland Hills, Texas. Washington state’s website was operating again yesterday after being pulled down the day before because it was providing incorrect data on tax credits, the local exchange said in a statement. Covered California, the insurance marketplace run by the nation’s largest state, said last weekend on Twitter it was working to fix unspecified “website issues.” Confused, frustrated The biggest hurdle for Obamacare may be finding and winning over confused and frustrated consumers, many of them with bad memories of last year. At the Greater Prince William Community Health Center in Manassas last weekend, officials expected at least 500 people to show up for assistance signing up for insurance. Frank Principi, the executive director, said he ran ads for two weeks on cable television, Hispanic radio and in newspapers to draw the uninsured to the event. Diego Osorio, an enrollment counselor, said it had taken him about an hour and a half to sign up his first clients of the day, a couple who had emigrated from Peru. They enrolled in a silver-level plan from Kaiser Permanente that would cost them $214 per month after a subsidy, he said. “It’s not quick,” he said. “But it’s quicker than last year.” ‘Pretty specialized’ Some of those waiting needed assistance with difficult family situations. Leonilda Diaz of Manassas asked Burwell for help directly during a news conference at the enrollment center; her ex-husband, she said, had refused to provide her a document to prove she and her children qualify for Affordable Care Act coverage, she told the secretary. “I need to have insurance no matter what,” Diaz said later in an interview. “I just need to take care of myself and my kids.”Health clinic officials and Burwell’s aides quickly ushered Diaz to the front desk of the center. Diaz said she had tried and failed to obtain coverage last year. “This is a case that’s a pretty specialized one,” Burwell said. “We’ll follow up. Let’s see if we can help.” Americans buying Obamacare plans for 2015 can expect to pay about 3 percent more on average for the cheapest coverage — a small increase by historical standards — though premium changes vary widely by state. Bronze-level insurance, the least expensive full-coverage plans available, will cost at least $307 a month on average for a 50-year-old nonsmoker next year, according to data released yesterday and analyzed by Avalere Health, a Washington consulting firm. The cheapest silver plans, the category most popular with consumers, would cost the same person $381 on average, a 4 percent increase from a year before. Recalculate eligibility
It won’t just be new enrollees using the healthcare.gov website in coming weeks: The Obama administration has encouraged those who enrolled in 2014 to return to the site to recalculate their eligibility. Those who don’t will find their 2014 insurance automatically renewed on Dec. 15, and in some cases the premiums may be sharply higher. Enrollees will also be given the same subsidy as 2014, even if their income has changed.
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