When HealthCare.gov opens on Nov. 1 for a third open-enrollment season, the online insurance marketplace will be easier for consumers to use, Obama administration officials predict. But one main new tool to help consumers decide on health plans will not be finished.
In preparation for the next sign-up period for private insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the government has fine-tuned the enrollment Web site so it will be speedier and will more clearly show all the expenses that someone considering a given health plan would have to pay.
However, federal health officials had touted another improvement to HealthCare.gov that would enable insurance shoppers to search for health plans near them that include their doctors and cover their prescription drugs. On Friday, Department of Health and Human Services officials said they have collected from insurers slightly more than half the data needed for such computer searches to work. They declined to predict when this feature will be ready.
“Coming soon,” said Lori Lodes, communications director for HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees HealthCare.gov.
Lodes was one of four federal health officials who on Friday gave a preview of changes that have been made to the Web site and tried to calibrate public expectations.
“Our posture is excited and ready,” said Andy Slavitt, acting CMS administrator.
One of his deputies, Kevin Counihan, was more circumspect. “Are we going to have bumps in this open enrollment? You bet,” Counihan said. “Are we going to fix the bumps? You bet.”
This year, 38 states will rely on HealthCare.gov as the enrollment system for people to buy health plans under the ACA if they do not have access to affordable health benefits through a job. The online system will become available for consumers to browse their insurance options starting Sunday, a week before a three-month enrollment period begins. Open enrollment also begins Nov. 1 for consumers in the remaining states and the District, which have created their own ACA insurance marketplaces.
Obama administration officials are still working to put behind them public memories of a computer disaster when HealthCare.gov launched in October 2013. “Year One, we had everything to learn,” Slavitt said in a briefing for journalists.
By this third year, he and the other officials said, the Web site will be 40 percent faster than a year ago and will, in spots, use vocabulary that is easier to understand. Computer screens will remind insurance shoppers that they need to submit certain information, such as Social Security numbers, to avoid problems later on. And a new “out-of-pocket calculator” will show insurance shoppers what various health plans would cost them in deductibles and co-payments, as well as monthly premiums.
Federal health officials are trying to persuade eligible people who remain uninsured to sign up for 2016, when financial penalties increase for Americans who lack coverage. They also are encouraging the nearly 10 million people who currently have ACA insurance to check back to find out whether they could be better served by switching health plans.