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Obamacare media updates are starting to get tense

(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)
(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Every day, usually about 2 p.m. or so, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid 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!

Medicare thinks it has fixed the biggest 834 bug. Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille spent most of this call focused on 834 transmissions -- partly because of new information, and partly because reporters kept asking about it (a bit more on that later). The 834 transmissions are the files that fires off to insurance companies when someone signs up for their plans. The companies say that some of these files have come in with inaccurate information.

Bataille announced Monday that about 80 percent of those errors stemmed from "one bug that prevented a Social Security number from being included. That caused the system not to generate an 834."

"That bug has now been fixed and [that part] is now working properly," Bataille said, adding that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has also addressed smaller bugs, including one that caused family relationships to be coded inaccurately (a child, for example, might show up as a spouse.).

We don't know how many inaccurate 834 transmissions went out. Three reporters -- one from the Los Angeles Times, one from The Wall Street Journal and I -- asked Bataille for information on how many of the 834s sent out so far have had an error. This is a question that I've asked on three previous calls, a point made by the Los Angeles Times's Noam Levey as he asked for his second time.

This is where Monday's media call started to get more tense than the dozens that have happened in the past, with reporter after reporter asking about the numbers of 834 errors and not getting a response from the administration. As The Wall Street Journal reporter reasoned, if the administration knows that 80 percent of the errors are coming from a certain bug -- then simple math should figure out the total number.

Bataille did not provide an answer, beyond the metric of the Social Security bug causing the majority of the errors. "That’s the information I’ve got today," she told The Wall Street Journal's Louise Radnofsky, when she was the third reporter to ask about the issue.

The administration has identified the 834 transmissions as key to the health law's success. When Jeff Zients came onboard to help fix, he identified fixing these flawed transmissions as the issue at the very top of of his punch list. The reason I've kept asking about it is because experts tell me repeatedly that if the health law wants to have a shot at working, then the 834 transmissions need to work, too. That makes how poorly, or how well, the 834 transmissions are going a really important metric for understanding whether the health-care law is working -- and one that reporters are likely to keep pressing the administration on.

Want to know if you're enrolled in your plan? You should call your insurer. This was another outgrowth of the 834 issue: If some of the transmissions are flawed, how should people check if their own enrollment worked? The 834 transmission is, after all, a back-end transfer that consumers typically don't see.

"Consumers should absolutely call their selected plan and confirm that they have paid their first month’s premium, and coverage will available January 1," Bataille said. "We’ll make a concerted effort [to tell those] who selected a plan, so they know what their next steps would be." needed backup before it hit 50,000 concurrent users. More on that over here.



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