Republicans cry politics as health exchange enrollment dates pushed back
Republicans cried foul on Friday over an on-the-fly delay in the rollout of President Obama's health care plan. Department of Health and Human Services said it is changing the 2015 open-enrollment period for the federal health care exchanges, according to an HHS official. Although the 2015 enrollment period had been set to begin Oct. 15, 2014, and end Dec. 7, it will now begin Nov. 15, 2014, and end Jan. 15, 2015.
Republicans accused the Obama administration of a blatantly political effort to push the enrollment period until after the 2014 election, which will be held Nov. 4, and delay bad news that might result from the next round of open enrollment.
“Clearly, President Obama does not want voters to see increased prices, more cancellations and decreased options under Obamacare before they go to the ballot box,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. “If Obamacare is so great, why are Democrats so scared of voters knowing its consequences?”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called it a “cynical political move” that means “if premiums go through the roof in the first year of Obamacare, no one will know about it until after the election.”
Some observers suggest there should be plenty of information available about 2015 premiums before the election. This year, 17 states and Washington posted the data publicly before the Obama administration.
“We'll definitely start seeing some premiums earlier from state insurance departments,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
The administration says the change is to allow insurers more time to prepare and submit premiums.
Meanwhile, Jeff Zients, who was appointed by Obama to fix HealthCare.gov's problems, said he is “very confident” the website will be able to handle 50,000 concurrent users by the end of this month.
“The site was originally intended to handle this load, and improvements will bring it up to this level,” Zients said. “We will have the capacity that was intended.”
HHS also will be implementing what it describes as a “queuing system” to deal with moments when there are too many users on the website. In those cases, users will have the opportunity to receive an email from HealthCare.gov notifying them when the site is having lower traffic and would work better.
However, the website will go down for maintenance again from Saturday night to Sunday morning.
In another delay that will help increase enrollment before year's end, HHS announced it is giving people an extra week in December to sign up for coverage that begins right at the start of the new year.
The previous Dec. 15 deadline is going to get pushed to Dec. 23, administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille said. This will be true only in December; in all other months of open enrollment after Jan. 1, the deadline for buying coverage in the next month will be the 15th of the month prior.
For the insurance industry, the announcement complicated the balancing act. Every week, a new edict from the administration sends the companies scrambling. More time for consumers means less time for insurers to verify enrollments and correct errors.
“It makes it more challenging to process enrollments in time for coverage to begin on Jan. 1,” said Robert Zirkelbach of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. “Ultimately it will depend on how many people enroll in those last few days.”
Zirkelbach underscored that consumers also need to pay their premiums on time.