(Bloomberg) — Potential Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange customers can peek at 2015 prices for the program’s health plans today after the government released a “window shopping” feature overnight.
The preview feature, added to the U.S.’s revamped HealthCare.gov website, is intended to ease pressure on the system by allowing curious consumers a look at prices for health plans a week before enrollment begins. Last year, consumers who tried to use the website were met with errors and delays that prevented millions from signing up for several months.
Challenges are mounting for the second year of enrollment in PPACA, which is also known as Obamacare, as Republicans gained control of Congress last week and the Supreme Court announced it will consider whether a key feature, subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance, should be available to all Americans. The Obama administration, meanwhile, must simultaneously persuade more than 7 million existing customers to renew and sign up millions more uninsured people.
“We have been working in a number of areas to raise the bar,” Andy Slavitt, the deputy director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs HealthCare.gov, told reporters yesterday on a conference call to preview the feature. “Our principal focus is to bring people back to the website so they can update their information and shop for the best values. That’s our principal focus, is to get people to come back.”
Consumer confusion is high about this year’s enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. About 90 percent of uninsured people surveyed in October by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they didn’t know when they could sign up for coverage. And about 51 percent of people who tried out federal and state enrollment systems last year said they wouldn’t return, according to a Nov. 3 Bankrate.com survey.
More than 13.5 million people registered to use the enrollment systems in 2014, and about 8 million finished the process and selected a health plan. Enrollment as of Aug. 15 was 7.3 million people, the government has said.
Obama administration officials are optimistic that a rebuilt federal enrollment system will hold up when it opens in a week, avoiding a repeat of last fall. The site has been much more extensively tested this year, Slavitt said.
“We’ve hit all of the critical deadlines we set over the summer for testing,” Slavitt said. A former executive at UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH), he was appointed to supervise PPACA programs for the government after his company helped salvage the HealthCare.gov website last year.
The administration also hired Kevin Counihan, the former chief executive officer of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s state-based exchange, as the CEO of HealthCare.gov. Connecticut’s enrollment system was one of the best-working in the nation in 2014.
The window-shopping feature went live at about 9:30 p.m. New York time Sunday, said Lori Lodes, a CMS spokeswoman. The feature allows people to enter a small amount of information — where they live and their family size and income, if they wish – - and view premiums and benefits for health plans available in their area.