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CMS: looks better

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Visitors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) exchange enrollment website are encountering fewer errors, and the system now works most of the time, administration officials said Sunday in a progress report.

Developers have fixed more than 400 bugs, including some that were interfering with 834 transaction completion reports, and the percentage of consumers with the right documents who can complete applications online has increased to about 80 percent, from only about 35 percent a few weeks ago, Julie Bataille, a representative for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said during a CMS press call.

More than 50,000 people can now log on to the website, and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, Bataille said. 

CMS is the HHS agency in charge of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange program. 

Jeff Zients, the chief troubleshooter, said CMS and its system integrator, QSSI, have improved site operations by identifying weaknesses in software, hardware and management.

“The bottom line — HealthCare,.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st,” Zients said.

But “there is more work to be done to continue to improve and enhance the website and continue to improve the consumer experience in the weeks and months ahead,” HHS officials wrote in a memo to reporters.

Bataille noted that CMS is working on a pilot project that gives 16 insurers in three states the ability to enroll consumers who qualify for PPACA subsidies in coverage directly, without making the consumers come in through the system.

The White House is hoping for a fresh start. A wave of bad publicity over the site’s early failures cast a shadow over the president’s chief domestic achievement.

Even with the repairs in place, the site still won’t be able to do everything the administration wants, and companion sites for small businesses and Spanish speakers have been delayed. Questions remain about the stability of the site and the quality of the data it delivers to insurers.

Obama promised a few weeks ago that “will work much better on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, than it worked certainly on Oct. 1.” But, in trying to lower expectations, he said he could not guarantee that “100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience.”

Obama rightly predicted errors would remain. The department reported the website is up and running 95 percent of the time — meaning a 1-in-20 chance of finding a broken website remains. The government also estimated that pages crashed a rate less than once every 100 clicks.

There is no way to independently verify the administration’s figures.

The nation’s largest health insurer trade group said significant problems remain.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said insurers have complained that enrollment data sent to them from the website include too much incorrect, duplicative, garbled or missing information. She said the problems must be cleared up to guarantee consumers the coverage they signed up for effective Jan. 1.

The first big test of the repaired website probably won’t come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

Avoiding a break in coverage is particularly important for millions of people whose current individual policies were canceled because they don’t meet PPACA standards, as well as for a group of about 100,000 in an expiring federal program for high-risk patients.

Allison Bell and Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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