Back-End Errors at Obamacare Website Jeopardize Consumer Sign-Up

INN Breaking News, December 9, 2013

Alex Wayne and Alex Nussbaum

“In general our 834 files have been pretty good,” said Kathleen Oestreich, CEO of Meritus, a Tempe, Arizona, startup insurer funded by government loans. The company has seen only one “orphan” member, she said -- a person who called and said they hadn’t received an enrollment notice even though they had picked Meritus as their insurer.

More troubling are “ghosts” — people whose files never reach their insurers, Robert Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant, said. It’s unclear how many people may fall into that category or how companies will identify or reach them.

“If they enroll 500,000 people and 25,000 of them walk into the doctor’s office and nobody knows who they are, that’s a problem,” he said in a phone interview.

People may soon have the option of bypassing healthcare.gov and enrolling through the websites of the insurance companies or online insurance brokers. The results of the government’s test project in Florida, Texas and Ohio have been positive so far, companies said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida said last week that it would start enrolling people online, through agents and brokers and at retail centers it operates in the state. The process has gotten smoother over the past week, said Mark Wright, a spokesman for the carrier.

Direct Enrollment

Health Care Service Corp., owner of Blue Cross plans in Texas, Illinois and three more states, has “seen some successes” with direct enrollment, said Greg Thompson, a spokesman for the Chicago-based company. “There have been some problems, too, but we expect to see improvement.”

For consumers, enrolling directly through an insurer means they may miss out on a chief benefit of the government’s exchange -- the ability to compare competing policies side by side, said Betsy Imholz, a special projects director for Consumers Union, the Yonkers, New York-based advocacy group. Still, consumer groups are warming to the idea given healthcare.gov’s limitations, she said in an interview. 

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