Open Enrollment 2015

By: Robert Pear (NY Times) November 2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Sunday that 100,000 people had submitted applications for health insurance on the first day of open enrollment, and it offered practical advice to consumers who had been locked out of their accounts.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, cited the 100,000 applications as evidence that the refurbished website for the insurance marketplace was working for most users.

“The vast majority of people coming to the site were able to get on and do what they were intending to do,” Ms. Burwell said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”

By contrast, when the website for the federal exchange went live on Oct. 1, 2013, it was virtually impossible to use. Government documents later obtained by congressional investigators showed that only six people managed to enroll on that first day, and that the total climbed to 248 on the next day.

Open enrollment for coverage in 2015 began on Saturday. Consumers had already been able to see health insurance options available on the federal exchange for five days. The opportunity for such “window shopping” took pressure off the website on Saturday, officials said.

Ms. Burwell said that 500,000 people logged in to the site on Saturday. Insurance counselors, agents and brokers said that the application process went smoothly for new customers, but that people returning to the site often had difficulty unlocking their accounts and resetting their passwords.

Administration officials said they were investigating the problems. An initial assessment by the Department of Health and Human Services says: “Many returning consumers had not reset their passwords from earlier this year when all consumers needed to reset. Some of the cases are due to consumers who are unable to recall their accurate usernames. There have also been some cases in which consumers did not have their passwords restored because of simple miscommunication.”

In some cases, it appears that the call center for the federal insurance exchange did not accurately transcribe email addresses reported by consumers asking for assistance.

Moreover, the department said, “A common mistake people are making is using their email address as their login when they may have started their account with a username instead.”

President Obama declared on Sunday that “ works really well now,” and he repudiated comments by a former administration adviser who said the health care law had been passed in part because of “the stupidity of the American voter.”

“The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is no reflection on the actual process that was run,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Brisbane, Australia, where he was attending a conference of world leaders.

The adviser, Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a paid consultant to the administration in 2009-10. In a video that surfaced recently, he said that “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

But Ms. Burwell said a premise of the law was transparency: allowing Americans to see the details of different health insurance plans offered for sale in a public marketplace.

NY Times