White House expects Day 1 Obamacare snags
By: Brett Norman
December 31, 2013 01:55 PM EST
The Obama administration acknowledged Tuesday that some people who think they successfully signed up for insurance under the president’s health law may not actually have the coverage in place Jan. 1, because of the tech problems with HealthCare.gov.
“We’re very excited about tomorrow, but we’re vigilant,” White House health policy adviser Phil Schiliro said on MSNBC. “We don’t want anybody to have problems, but we know some people will.”
He said the administration has a HealthCare.gov call line to help people who encounter problems if they try to get care or medication as soon as the coverage begins.
“If anyone is having problems tomorrow, if they go to a pharmacy, if they go to a hospital and there’s no record, they should call that number; the insurer could call that number; and we’ll be able to determine in five minutes whether or not they properly enrolled,” Schiliro said. “If they have a bigger problem, then we will assign a caseworker to it, and we’ll try to get a resolution as quickly as possible.”
More than 2.1 million people had signed up with private plans on state and federal-run exchange as of Dec. 28, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. About half were through the federal-run exchange in 36 states, she said. In addition, about 3.9 million people were determined eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, a number that includes some people who were renewing existing coverage, Sebelius said.
Wednesday is the first day Obamacare coverage takes effect for people who signed up by the Dec. 24 deadline, but problems with the federal Obamacare portal and error-ridden enrollment files that were sent to insurers mean it’s all but certain that some of the sign-ups may have been lost or wrongly recorded.
It’s unclear how many people will try to use their insurance before the records can be straightened out, and Schiliro said he didn’t have an estimate. He stressed that the government and insurers had reached out to everyone who may be affected.
“The population that people have been concerned about have all been contacted,” he said. “They’ve been contacted by the federal government; they’ve been contacted by the insurers, in some cases, two or three times.”
Insurers are racing to finalize their enrollments ahead of the Jan. 1 start of coverage benefits, but it’s a painstaking scramble to match their records to those of the exchange.
Sebelius also offered basic consumer tips Tuesday, reminding the newly covered to bringan insurance card or other proof of coverage to the pharmacy or doctor’s office. She urged people to find out which doctors are in the plan’s network and which drugs are covered. And she reminded them to pay their first premiums. Most, although not all, health plans are giving people until Jan. 10.
America’s Health Insurance Plans CEO Karen Ignagni said insurers have worked for more than three years to adjust to the new market rules under the Affordable Care Act and to make insurance available to as many people as possible.
“Health plans will continue to work with state and federal agencies to help consumers through the enrollment process get the high-quality, affordable health care coverage they need,” she said in a statement.
On Tuesday morning, Rep. Henry Waxman released a report, countering the Republican attack that the law has cost more people coverage through policy cancellations than it will add to insurance rolls. It’s been one of the most frequent digs at Obamacare of late and is likely to resurface with the new year.
The claim is based on estimates that 4 million to 5 million — or by some counts more — Americans’ plans are being canceled because they don’t comply with new benefit requirements and that they outnumber those signing up for new Obamacare plans.
The report calls that “a particularly specious and disingenuous argument.”
Fewer than 10,000 people who received cancellation notices because of Obamacare won’t be able to renew their policies or have access to either subsidized plans or cheap catastrophic coverage, the report states.
The administration took several steps to mitigate the damage from the wave of cancellations, including allowing states to waive the new standards for those plans in 2014 and allowing those who are affected to purchase catastrophic insurance.
Schiliro continued the administration’s efforts to lower expectations about the first year sign-up numbers, saying that “there’s no magic” to the Congressional Budget Office estimate that 7 million people would enroll by the end of March.
“What there is magic to is that in the month of December, a million Americans signed up for insurance,” he said.
He also said that enrollment numbers tell only part of the Obamacare story and that Tuesday marks the last day of the old insurance market.
“Today is a very important day,” he said. “Today is the last day women in the United States can be discriminated against when it comes to insurance just because they are women.” It’s also the last day people “face limits on their future coverage,” he said.
About 7,000 people who had troubled enrolling before Dec. 24 contacted a special hotline set up by HHS, according to CMS communications director Julie Bataille. Another hotline for people with canceled plans has received 2,400 calls, she said on Tuesday’s conference call with reporters.