The three things we learned from today’s Obamacare update

November 19, 2013

Every day, usually around 2 p.m. or so, the Center for Medicare Services hosts a half-hour long call on the status of the insurance marketplace. Now, every day, we here at Wonkblog will update you on what the federal government told us about how Obamacare is going. Without further ado, here is what we learned today!

(REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)
(REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

Most of the high-priority problems with the "834 transmissions" have been fixed. Spokeswoman Julie Bataille kicked off the call by announcing that her agency has "completed fixes for two-thirds of the high priority bugs responsible with issues with 834 transactions." 834 transactions, as you might recall, are the forms that the exchange is supposed to send to insurance plans when someone signs up for a plan. But ever since HealthCare.gov launched, it has been spitting out inaccurate forms that make it difficult for insurers to know who has actually purchased their plan.

Unfortunately, there was no follow up question on the error rate for 834 transmissions; we don't know, right now, how many of those are buggy.

Direct enrollment through private insurers is getting easier. Insurers should be able to directly enroll shoppers through their own Web sites at this point, including (and this is the important point here) people who are shopping with insurance subsidies. "We do believe the majority of those high priority fixes for direct enrollment have been addressed," Bataille said. "We continue to work through some additional issues and make sure that [insurers] are seeing those fixes work. They will be more actively utilizing those direct enrollment processes."

When pressed on whether this would be true for Americans shopping with subsidies - and who would need to connect to the federal government to find out what subsidy they should receive - Bataille said, "Correct, that is for the subsidy eligible population."

I'm still double-checking this issue, so stay tuned for a bit more in this space!

The systems to send subsides to insurers haven't been built. When someone does shop with a subsidy, the federal government is on the hook to pay part of their premium to the health insurance plan. Medicare deputy chief information officer Henry Chao testified before Congress today - and Bataille confirmed - that the system that will send those subsidies has not yet been created.

"My understanding of the system is we do not need that online until the middle of January, given how the payment schedule works," she said. "It's a back end system necessary to process information directly to issuers."

In other words: Subsidies don't start going out the door until 2014, so there is no need for the system to exist right now. Whether it exists in January 2014--that's one area where we'll have to wait and see.

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Brad Plumer · November 19, 2013