Will Obamacare’s State Exchanges Be Ready for Round 2?
Policy + Politics

Will Obamacare’s State Exchanges Be Ready for Round 2?

With just one month to go until the start of Obamacare’s second open enrollment period, state and federal officials are being cautiously optimistic about their health exchange websites—assuring the public that there won’t be a repeat of last year’s technological nightmare.

Speaking to health reporters last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell touted the newly revamped Healthcare.gov as a vast improvement over last year’s website—which was plagued with technical glitches.

Related: Millions Wasted on Broken Obamacare State Websites

But when asked about how some of state exchanges that had trouble last year are shaping up, Burwell hesitated and said HHS is monitoring them on a state-by-state basis.

Last year, 14 states and the District of Columbia decided to create their own exchanges. Of those, at least four states--Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon and Nevada—had websites that suffered from serious technical troubles. Still, officials from all four states say their websites will be ready for the second enrollment period—after going through lengthy and expensive repair efforts.

Massachusetts’ website, for example, required such massive repair efforts that it ultimately cost $80 million more than originally estimated. The state and federal government paid about $254 million in IT costs alone, according to The Boston Globe. The state has paid about $42 million—up from the initial estimate of $16 million. The federal government, meanwhile, has covered the rest.

Related: Obamacare Website Costs Balloon to $2 Billion

The state of Maryland, meanwhile, decided to scrap its entire $90 million website earlier this year and start over—using the same technology that Connecticut’s successful state exchange used. The new system cost the state an additional $54 million, according to The Baltimore Business Journal.

State Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein and the exchange’s Executive Director Carolyn Quattrocki, told state legislators last week that the website is on track and will provide a much better experience for consumers than last year—when the site crashed the first day it went live.

Still, just to be safe, the state exchange will have a staggered rollout. People will be able to enroll in person on Nov. 15 after which the call center will open. By Nov. 17, navigators and brokers will begin enrolling people, and then on Nov. 19, direct enrollment will open, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Meanwhile, the two other state exchanges –Oregon and Nevada—had so many problems with their websites that they ultimately decided to scrap them—which cost Oregon $250 million and Nevada about $12 million (since the state withheld most of the contractor’s funding)

Both states will now rely on the federal exchange. The old sites won’t completely go to waste this year. Consumers will still be able to shop around on the existing state exchanges. But they will have to enroll through Healthcare.gov on Nov 15. or be directed to their states’ Medicaid programs.

Just like the troubled state exchanges, the federal portal, HealthCare.gov has soared way over budget—after an intense repair effort. Earlier this month, a Bloomberg analysis revealed that HealthCare.gov and supporting costs have reached more than $2 billion so far.

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