As expected, open enrollment for the new online Marketplaces on Oct. 1 was marred by delays, technical difficulties and frustration for consumers and agents alike. According to the Obama Administration, more than one million consumers visited www.healthcare.gov before 7 a.m. Tuesday, although it is unclear how many consumers were able to actually sign up for coverage.
In other healthcare news, the Administration continues to pump out rulemakings on various aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), providing new details on Multi-State Plans (MSPs) to be offered on the Marketplaces.
Failure to Launch
As was widely reported in the press, many individuals attempting to sign onto the ACA website Tuesday morning were greeted by error messages and blank screens. The Administration said they expected glitches in the system and will likely overcome them with time. But over the last week, agents and consumers alike received word of several significant delays that must be addressed as soon as possible for the Marketplaces to be successful.
In the Federally-facilitated Marketplaces (FFMs), where the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is either fully or partially running the online Marketplaces in 36 states, online enrollment and plan pricing for small businesses has been delayed until at least Nov. 1. Applications can be obtained to sign up for coverage, but must be printed out and either faxed or mailed in. However, no one is likely to be interested in going this far, since only sample pricing is currently available.
HHS also quietly announced that the issuer-based method of enrollment for agents to use in the individual market in the FFMs is not yet operational, and has not provided an estimate as to when this might be corrected. In the individual market FFMs, agents were supposed to have two different methods of enrollment: using either the Marketplace website itself to work with a consumer on enrollment, or the issuer-based method where the insurance company’s website is used. In the small group (more popularly referred to as SHOP) FFMs, agents may only use the Marketplace website for enrollment, so this particular delay is not an issue.
If not corrected soon, these latest delays—along with a long list of other problems—could spell real trouble for enrollment levels through the Marketplaces.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an arm of the Executive Branch of the federal government, has announced that it has entered into a contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield to offer MSPs in the online Marketplaces of 30 states.
MSPs are health plans that will be offered through exchanges on a national level, the terms of which are negotiated and administered directly by the OPM. By 2017, all exchanges must carry at least two MSPs, one of which must be a non-profit. MSPs must be available in all 50 states within four years of the launch of the Marketplaces.
These plans were created by the drafters of the ACA, with the stated intention of increasing competition and giving consumers access to the same healthcare as federal government workers.
Ryan Young is Big “I” senior director of federal government affairs.