Fateful dates ahead on Obamacare calendar
By: Kyle Cheney and Jason Millman
November 13, 2013 08:57 PM EST
Over the next five months, the calendar is loaded with dates and deadlines that will shape the fate of Obamacare.
The October enrollment figures released Wednesday underscored the damage done by the health law’s technical problems since it launched on Oct. 1; 106,000 signing up in the first 32 days was a poor showing, even by the White House’s own admission.
The Obama administration insists that the poor numbers can be reversed, momentum restored. Here are some key dates on that road to redemption — or further dysfunction.
1) “Sooner rather than later”
First up is President Barack Obama’s effort to stop the bleeding caused by a wave of health insurance cancellations for people who buy coverage on their own. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday the president would announce a fix “sooner rather than later.” House Republicans plan to press the point Friday, when they take up legislation intended to help people keep their vanishing policies.
The administration has been reeling from all the stories of people whose health plans have been canceled because they don’t meet the minimum requirements of insurance prescribed by Obamacare. That flies in the face of President Barack Obama’s familiar promise that people who liked their health policies could keep them under his signature law.
After the enrollment figures were released, Republicans raced to contrast the relatively small number of enrollees with the far larger number of people whose plans are being nixed.
“Even with the administration’s Enron-like accounting, fewer people have signed up for Obamacare nationwide than the 280,000 who’ve already lost their plan in Kentucky as a result of Obamacare mandates,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
2) Nov. 30 — the website fix
The administration has promised that HealthCare.gov, the Obamacare enrollment portal used in 36 states, will be mostly operational on Nov. 30.
But it hasn’t defined what success looks like, promising only that the site will “work smoothly” for the “vast majority” of users. That leaves a lot unsaid. It’s unclear whether bugs affecting the accuracy of enrollment data or the way insurers interact with the system will also be cleared up by then, although the administration says working on the industry problems is a priority.
And the top tech guy on the repair team isn’t promising mission accomplished. “The team is working incredibly hard to meet that goal,” White House CTO Todd Park told a House panel Wednesday.
But the administration has emphasized that fixes will continue after Nov. 30 — and some people, even if it’s just a few, will run into tech problems.
3) Dec. 15 - The first enrollment deadline
Even if the website is fixed on time, there will be just two weeks left to sign up for anyone who wants Obamacare coverage as soon as it’s available in January — and that may include up to a few million people who had thought they could “keep the plan they had” until they received a cancellation notice. The Dec. 15 deadline means a massive, compressed enrollment push by White House allies which could drive up enrollment numbers — or place an impossible strain on HealthCare.gov. Open enrollment will continue for a few months — but not for anyone facing a Jan. 1 coverage gap.
This is also the target date for the next HHS release of enrollment stats, which are expected to include a more detailed look at who’s signing up — whether they’re young or old, and whether they’re signing up for generous “gold” or skimpier “bronze” plans. The demographics will give some indication of whether the law can meet its targets.
“The first month’s enrollment doesn’t necessarily tell you what the enrollment is going to look like over the six-month period,” said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans. “You don’t want to look just at the total number of people that enroll but also take into account the age and health of that population.”
4) Jan. 1 — Coverage begins — and could end for some
Jan. 1 is arguably the most significant date on the Obamacare timeline. That’s when new health insurance policies that people are attempting to sign up for today begin offering coverage. It’s when people with preexisting conditions will no longer be denied insurance and when most of Obamacare’s new rules for the insurance industry take effect.
It’s also the day that people who weren’t able to enroll by December 15 — or whose plans expired without a viable alternative in place — could lose their coverage. And that includes some of the sickest.
warned of this prospect for some of her state’s sickest residents.
”In Oklahoma, for example, there are over 800 men and women with preexisting health conditions enrolled in the temporary high risk pool,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement Wednesday evening. “All of them will lose their coverage by the end of the year. If the exchange is not functioning properly by December, they will find themselves uninsured.”
And even for those who get insurance, Jan. 1 will be a big test. When they try to use their new coverage it could go well — or not so well. They may have trouble seeing the doctor they thought was in their plan, or the drug that they thought was covered.
5) March 31 -The end of enrollment
The first Obamacare enrollment period closes at the end of March. That’s when the administration is hoping to have enrolled 7 million Americans in the new marketplaces — including 2.7 million younger, healthier people.
Unless…. the website problems and enrollment obstacles continue. Then it’s quite possible that the first open enrollment season is extended to give people more time to come into the system. Some politically vulnerable Democrats have urged an extension, although the White House continues to insist that the enrollment period will end on March 31.