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CMS encourages those who failed to enroll through HealthCare.gov to try again


By Joseph Conn
Posted: November 12, 2013 - 4:00 pm ET
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More than a quarter-million Americans who tried and failed to enroll for health insurance through the troubled HealthCare.gov website will be invited back this week to try again, a federal official said Tuesday.

Over the past weekend, technicians made software fixes that “address dozens of issues,” said CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille. The administration's confidence in the system has improved to the extent that today, the agency will begin sending the first of multiple “waves” of e-mails to 270,000 individuals whose attempts to enroll were foiled in the weeks since open enrollment launched Oct. 1.

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The Obama administration also is holding fast to its self-imposed deadline to have the main federal enrollment portal for insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act fully functional by the end of the month, Bataille said.

“As we go forward, we continue to make progress on HealthCare.gov,” she said. “We have the right team in place. By the end of November, it will be working smoothly for the vast majority of users.”

On Wednesday morning two of the Obama administration's senior IT officials--Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer for the CMS--are scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill to answer questions about the troubled launch from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

One of the software systems improvements made recently enables users of the site to upload documents needed in the enrollment process, Bataille said. Others involved the ASC X12 834 electronic health plan enrollment format, including fixing a rounding function on a payment calculator that previously stopped some applicants from moving forward, she said.

Addressing troubles with the widely-used 834 electronic data interchange standard were cited by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last month as “one of the priority fixes.” She also said the 834 problem made reliable enrollment numbers impossible to provide.

Bataille also reiterated the administration would provide enrollment numbers this week. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that that fewer than 50,000 people had enrolled in plans through the marketplaces operated by HHS for 36 states.

Enrollment through exchanges operated by the remaining states and the District of Columbia likewise stood at about 50,000 as of last week, according to a recent survey by Avalere Health.

State-run exchanges in California and Oregon—neither of which have released figures—have bifurcated their processes because they've been unable to enroll anyone online. The websites are allowing residents to shop for health insurance plans online, but they must apply for coverage on paper.

Asked if the feds had contemplated a comparable “plan B” should HealthCare.gov not be ready by the end of the month, Bataille said the administration has always emphasized enrollees could use alternative methods such as working with a call center or a trained center. But, she said, “Our focus is certainly working 24/7 to ensure” to ensure the “fixes are put in place to make that (Nov. 30 deadline) a reality.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn


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