The ability of consumers to sign up for a health plan, and the ability of the insurers to know who they are covering, is key to the success of the federal law that will for the first time require most Americans to have health insurance starting Jan. 1. The Web site www.healthcare.gov is the main path for millions of Americans in 36 states to purchase new coverage.
The flawed enrollment reports illustrate that the site is bedeviled by problems that go beyond what the Obama administration has acknowledged in explaining the creaky performance of the exchange so far.
At the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, officials have portrayed the exchange as a victim of its own popularity, with a larger-than-expected crush of Americans rushing to a Web site that wasn’t built to accommodate so many people at once.
That explanation puts the focus up front — on the servers and software that help consumers take the first step of registering for an account. Evidence is emerging from the insurance industry and elsewhere, however, that the exchange also has flaws that show up further along in the process — as consumers try to check whether they qualify for federal subsidies and as insurers try to find out who has enrolled.
For instance, one major insurance carrier, Cigna, sent a notice Wednesday to insurance brokers instructing them to wait until November to try to sign up customers who might qualify for a subsidy, according to Joseph Mondy, a Cigna spokesman. He said that the company does not yet trust the reliability of the part of the exchange that is supposed to calculate the tax credits that will, for the first time, help some Americans pay for private health coverage.
Cigna is one of the insurers that has built its own online “portal” for brokers to use, but that portal must communicate with the federal exchange to find out about a potential subsidy.
Cigna is selling health plans via the federal exchange in four states: Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. Mondy said the carrier has seen “multiple enrollments” coming through for the same customer on the same day.
A Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in a Southern state said that it has also gotten simultaneous reports of the same consumers enrolling as of Jan. 1 and cancelling as of Dec. 31, 2014.