- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The man in charge of the HealthCare.gov said the Obama administration is starting to notify customers who bought health coverage during Obamacare’s first year that they need to re-enroll this fall.

Kevin Counihan, who joined the federal exchange from Connecticut’s state-run exchange, said the marketplace began to send out notices late Monday that outline a five-step process to re-up with their plan of choice.

The move reflects the new challenge administration officials face as the Affordable Care Act enters its second act. They are trying to retain more than 7 million customers who signed up last year and kept paying their premiums, while enrolling millions more.

“We’re really in the bottom of the first in a nine-inning game,” Mr. Counihan told a gathering hosted insurers’ top lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, in northwest Washington.

Budget scorekeepers have estimated that 13 million Americans will be in the Obamacare marketplace for the 2015 plan year.

Open enrollment begins on Nov. 15. So right now, Mr. Counihan and other officials are leveraging hard lessons from the health overhaul’s first sign-up period. The federal HealthCare.gov website crashed upon launch last October, hindering sign-ups in the 36 states that relied on the exchange.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia set up their own portals, although several of them faced debilitating glitches.

Mr. Counihan led one of the relatively successful stories of the 2014 enrollment. The Connecticut exchange, Access CT, earned kudos for an “Apple store model” that set up physical storefronts where customers could enroll.

Health officials and insurers who offer their products on the Obamacare exchanges are hoping Mr. Counihan’s know-how translates into a rosier second round.

On Tuesday, he struck a bullish tone about the upcoming sign-ups, as the administration works to test a streamlined HealthCare.gov and make sure its financial payment systems are working.

“We feel confident we’re going to have a successful 2015,” Mr. Counihan said.

He said the system is equipped with monitoring and alarm bells that let the government “know what’s broken — why and where — before users do.”

To keep the customers they have, federal marketplace notices ask customers to review their current plan and update their income and other personal data.

They should shop around to see if other plans are more cost-effective and meet their needs, Mr. Counihan said. People and health plans change, and what worked for someone last year might not be the best fit in 2015.

Americans who want to be covered in time for the new year must enroll by Dec. 15.

Drawing on 2014, he said insurers should expect to a throng of applicants ahead of key cutoff dates. Almost half of last year’s enrollees, 47 percent, signed up in the final four weeks of open enrollment.

“Deadlines work,” he said.

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