- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Obama administration said Tuesday it saw “amazing interest” in the health care law’s marketplace this week, as record numbers of consumers rushed to beat pre-Christmas deadlines and be covered by Jan. 1.

Call centers and other personnel helped people complete their applications for health insurance on HealthCare.gov, the federal portal that serves 36 states. The administration confirmed that the system would let consumers finish the process by 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve even though Monday was the deadline to have coverage by the dawn of the new year.

The federal website received more than 2 million visits Monday — its highest one-day total to date — and more than 250,000 phoned the federal exchange system’s call center, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The agency said more than 129,000 visitors supplied their email addresses Monday to queue up when the site’s traffic was too heavy, but they were invited back later in the day to complete their applications.

“Volumes remain high but not equal to yesterday, and [we] have not had to deploy our queuing system on the site,” CMS said Tuesday.

The Obama administration has leaned on health insurers to give consumers leeway in signing up and paying for their first premiums ahead of Jan. 1, after an estimated 5 million to 6 million people lost existing plans that did not comply with Obamacare’s coverage requirements.

The administration faces a political backlash if many of these people experience coverage gaps in January, after Mr. Obama promised they could keep their health care plans, period, under his law.

Balky websites tied to the health care law prevented some people from exploring their options under Mr. Obama’s reforms. The White House enlisted management consultant Jeffrey Zients to turn around HealthCare.gov after its disastrous Oct. 1 debut, but some state Web portals are still struggling.

CMS vowed Tuesday to help customers break through logjams on HealthCare.gov.

“We have developed a robust casework process to address individual inquiries, respond to specific situations, and help consumers transition to new coverage,” CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille wrote in a blog post. “Consumers will hear directly from their health plan about the date their coverage is effective.”

Various state-run health care exchanges also tried Tuesday to get people enrolled in time for New Year’s Day, citing consumers’ tangible efforts to enroll by Monday’s deadline.

D.C. Health Link said people who struggled to get through their system in time should email its contact center with the subject line “January 1 enrollment.” Otherwise, the city’s portal would process them for insurance starting Feb. 1.

The D.C. exchange’s customers included President Obama, who beat the deadline and signed up for a lower-tier “bronze” plan in a move that is largely symbolic because, as commander in chief, he will receive employer-sponsored health insurance from the military.

Covered California, which is experiencing record-breaking volume on its website, said this week it will help people who began their applications by Monday to “get across the finish line” and be covered by Jan. 1.

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