Meanwhile, California and other states with functioning exchange websites say they are seeing surging enrollment.
The first indicator that the CMS might not make good on its promise came this week from Henry Chao, deputy director of the CMS' Office of Information Services. During a House hearing, Chao said he believed making the website work for most consumers by Nov. 30 is an “attainable goal,” but added, “I think there are a still a lot of moving parts and it wouldn't be prudent to give a 100% guarantee.”
On Thursday, HHS announced that it's pushing back the start of open enrollment for 2015 plans by one month—to Nov. 15, 2014—so that insurers have more time to evaluate their 2014 experience and subscriber pools before setting 2015 rates. HHS also gave consumers one extra week—until Dec. 23—to sign up for exchange coverage effective Jan. 1, 2014.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the delay in open enrollment for 2015 a nakedly political maneuver. “That means if premiums go through the roof in the first year of Obamacare, no one will know about it until after the election,” Grassley said in a written statement. “This is clearly a cynical political move by the Obama administration to use extra-regulatory, by-any-means-necessary tools to keep this program afloat and hide key information from voters.”
Meanwhile, the website woes and the uproar over hundreds of thousands of people receiving letters from insurers that their individual health plans are being cancelled because they don't meet Obamacare requirements have led to growing public disapproval of the law. In a new poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 49% of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of the law, while 33% have a favorable view. That's the largest gap between unfavorable and favorable views in Kaiser's nearly four years of polling on the law.
Joseph Antos, a healthcare expert at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, said there might be legislation in Congress to change the ACA, but that he doesn't expect anything to be signed into law. “The only question to raise is what are they going to say after Nov. 30?,” he said. “What are they going to do for the people who will not be able to get coverage? What is that Plan B?”
Joel Ario, managing director at Manatt Health Solutions and former director of HHS' office for health insurance exchanges, said the best Plan B would be for the administration to encourage consumers to sign up for subsidized exchange plan coverage directly with insurers rather than through the federal website.
CMS Communications Director Julie Bataille discussed direct enrollment this week and said consumers in the 36 states served by HealthCare.gov still would have to go to the federal website for their eligibility determination before they could sign up directly through an insurer's website.
Meanwhile, Chao testified this week that there are still some “back-end” systems to HealthCare.gov that are being built—namely those related to payment functions with insurers. Bataille said that segment is not needed until the middle of January.
When pressed on what the administration plans to do if the website is still not functional for most users by Nov. 30, Bataille said people are applying and enrolling on HealthCare.gov now, and that the administration continues “to be on track for it to go smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of the month.”