Consumers like Bob and Beth Keller, of West Palm Beach, who are unsure about the insurance plan they obtained through HealthCare.gov because of problems with the website, can take heart. They will have until Friday to make payments for coverage that will be retroactive to Jan 1.
To be sure, the rollout of HealthCare.gov has been dismal. But insurers have consistently cooperated with the Obama administration to ensure that consumers who attempted to buy plans by the Christmas Eve deadline will be covered effective this month.
Most insurers have voluntarily extended the deadline until Jan. 10 because of technical glitches with HealthCare.gov.
The administration has said fewer than 15,000 consumers will find themselves in a position like the Kellers, who are victims of what’s known as “834” errors, problems with the back end of HealthCare.gov that resulted in insurers getting flawed, or in some cases no information, on new enrollees. The Post’s Laura Green detailed the Kellers plight in a report Wednesday. They experienced numerous problems on HealthCare.gov and the premium they paid for their new, cheaper policy has yet to be processed.
The “834” errors have virtually been eliminated, according to Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency has a team dedicated to 834 issues working directly with insurers.
Florida Blue, the only insurer in the state to offer plans on the federal exchange in all 67 counties and in all categories, has added staff to process the large number of applications it has received through HealthCare.gov, and has extended service hours in its call centers and 18 retail centers throughout the state.
The Affordable Care Act has drastically changed the insurance industry by providing numerous consumer protections that took effect last week. These provisions of the law have been overshadowed by HealthCare.gov’s disastrous debut and the fallout from millions of consumers losing policies that don’t comply with the law.
Many of those consumers, though, are getting better plans at affordable prices.
Consider the Kellers. Despite the website glitches, ultimately they will have a platinum plan — the highest level of coverage — that saves them nearly $600 a month. Their deductibles are expected to drop from $7,500 to $1,000 each. And Bob Keller, who has diabetes, will pay about a third less for his medicine.
The law prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people, like Bob Keller, who have pre-existing conditions, and they can’t charge such individuals higher premiums. Some preventive services, such as breast cancer screenings and cholesterol tests, must be provided with no out-of-pocket costs. Insurers can’t cancel coverage once an individual gets sick — a practice known as “rescission” — and must spend between 80 percent and 85 percent of premium dollars on medical care.
Critics have assailed the law with numerous hyperbolic statements, calling it a “train wreck,” a “job killer” and “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” The law is indeed flawed, but it is none of those things.
“I’ve lost faith,” said Bob Keller, “in this whole thing working.” That’s understandable given the hoops he’s had to jump through. But Beth Keller best expressed the promise the law still holds. “If they get it right,” she said, “it’s going to be a great thing for people in this country.”