December 6 2013

#$!@3%1 ObamaCare Data

Patrice J. Lee

Healthcare.gov appears to be sputtering along, and state exchange websites are slowly enrolling Americans in healthcare much to the delight of supporters.

Their joy and cheer may be short-lived as reports emerge from health insurance providers that the data being collected through these websites isn’t translating as it should and instead is delivering garbled, incorrect and incomplete information. What that means for those who think they are now insured is that come January 1st, they may be in for a rude awakening.

Politico reports on this unfolding saga:

It’s a new twist in the unfolding saga of so-called 834 forms — industry jargon for the application files that insurers receive when someone signs up for coverage through an exchange.

Insurers in Kentucky and New York, for example, say they’ve received flawed 834 enrollment forms from their local exchanges, though the extent of the errors is unclear. Washington state has already had to correct thousands of 834s with faulty information about federal tax credits.

At the least, these issues run counter to the popular storyline: that states’ enrollment systems have vastly outperformed the Obama administration’s effort. At the worst, they could endanger coverage for thousands of people who think they’re already enrolled for the start of 2014.

“While there is significant variation from state to state, health plans in many state-based exchanges are seeing similar problems with enrollment files,” Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said Thursday.

It’s uncertain how deep the problems go, in part, because the states themselves aren’t sure — and are reluctant to divulge much about their technical challenges.

What’s happening in the state level mirrors data transfer problems happening at the federal level. When a person signs up for insurance online either through her state- or federal-run exchange, the system generates a form called an 834 form that submits that information to the selected insurer to be processed.

Unfortunately, the haphazard development of these websites apparently didn’t leave enough room for the secure development of the transfer process. Insurers say that while the consumer sign up and experiences may be improving, they are the ones dealing with the back-end problems of receiving the inaccurate, incomplete and duplicative information.

The White House has recently been summoning healthcare leaders to the Washington for private meetings. Perhaps it’s to be updated on this issue, but I’m sure there are a host of other issues they are briefing the White House on.

If this isn’t remedied, the next big headline won’t be the so-called glitches with healthcare.gov website but the hundreds of thousands or millions of newly uninsured Americans. As Politico reports that’s a headache for the White House:

At the rate the signups are going — even with the speedier, newly functioning Obamacare website — the administration has a vast distance to travel before the estimated 4 to 5 million people with canceled policies get new health coverage.

In fact, health care experts say, it’s not out of the question that the Obama administration could face the worst-case scenario on Jan. 1: the number of uninsured Americans actually goes up.

But even with all the variables, one thing is for certain: the Obama administration has one seriously long road to travel from the signups it has now to the number who will likely need to replace their coverage. That’s a bad place to be, given that the point of the law was to cover more people, not fewer people.

Here’s a scenario: a young woman shows up to her doctor’s office for their annual checkup in early January or gets her annual breast exam. Weeks later she receives a full bill for her services from the doctor’s office. Apparently, her ObamaCare application was never processed by the insurer because the files sent from the federal website or her state exchange website was incomplete. In the end she’s stuck with the bill and has no recourse.

Once again, it’s a lesson about the inability of government to execute complex programs that are more effectively and efficiently handled by the private sector. Central planning is woefully in adequate and often fails miserably at doing what the market arranges absent a central hand directing it.

And this is not lost on Americans. According to Gallup, more than half of Americans support scaling back (20 percent) or repealing (32 percent) ObamaCare. The technical issues that stymied healthcare.gov haven’t inspired a lot of confidence in the Administration and government.

When we think of efficient and innovative delivery of services, the first image that comes to mind is NOT our local registry of motor vehicles or polling precinct. Why do we have higher expectations for government’s management of healthcare?

 

 

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