“It will be an enormous uphill battle to get this thing launched on time,” said Robert Laszewski, a consultant and former insurance executive who is watching the effort closely. “They have a Herculean task, even if everyone was cooperating.”
The federal exchange — like the state models — would be a one-stop Web site where individuals and small businesses could compare insurance policy offerings on price, coverage and quality.
The exchanges also will assist applicants in determining whether they are eligible for Medicaid or for federal subsidies or tax credits to help offset premiums. Thus, the exchanges will need to incorporate state and federal data on income, employment and residency. Enrollment through the state and federal exchanges is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2013.
It’s hard to know how far along the federal government is because the Obama administration has “been very reluctant to provide any updates on progress,” said Dan Schuyler, a director at the consulting firm Leavitt Partners in Salt Lake City, which is advising states on the exchanges.
The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment.
Those designing a federal exchange face enormous technical, political and financial challenges.
Technically, data from a host of federal agencies need to be collected into one system, which then must be linked with computer systems in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, said computer systems in some states are old and may need substantial upgrading. There is some doubt, he said, about whether there is enough “physical capacity in the IT systems world” to get it all done in time.
“Our members have been having conversations with the vendors since the law was passed, and they are coming to the gradual conclusions that no, they don’t have the capacity to do this everywhere in the time frame,” Salo said.
Political threats also abound. No one knows whether the Supreme Court will invalidate part or all of the law next year; it is not clear how much funding will be available to launch and operate the federal exchange; and the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections could delay or derail the entire process.
Although federal officials are saying very little about their progress, they have signed contracts worth more than $150 million with several private contractors who are working on creating the federal exchange. Last month, Oregon’s top insurance regulator, Teresa Miller, was hired by HHS to oversee development of health-insurance exchanges.