Obamacare’s State Exchanges Get a Much Better Start in Year 2
Policy + Politics

Obamacare’s State Exchanges Get a Much Better Start in Year 2

REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Remember when the Obamacare health exchange websites were massive technological failures that prevented people from signing up for coverage? Well, those days are over and the multimillion-dollar repair efforts for both the federal and state exchanges seem to have made the enrollment process much easier this year. 

Related: Obamacare Enrollees Could Get Hit With Surprise Costs 

That’s not just a relief for beleaguered health care officials and an Obama administration that must now deal with a Republican-controlled Congress. It also means fewer headaches and less frustration for consumers who must sign up for coverage by Feb. 15 or face a tax penalty. 

Last week, after the initial deadline for obtaining coverage that would take effect at the start of 2015, health officials reported that more than 2.5 million people had enrolled via Obamacare’s federal health exchange as of Dec.12 with few complaints. 

Similarly, the state exchanges seem to be doing much better than last year. An analysis of state data by The Hill says more than 1 million people signed up for coverage in the 13 states and the District of Columbia that opted to run their own exchanges. 

That puts Obamacare on track to beat the Department of Health and Human Service’s goal of enrolling 9.1 million people in 2015. Avalere Health estimated that enrollment would be closer to be about 10.5 million. The enrollment figures reported so far only represent the number of people who have selected plans, not those who have paid their first months’ premiums, so it’s unclear how much that number will change in the next few months. 

The state data only includes sign ups from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, the initial deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting at the beginning of the New Year. Insurers in at least 37 states have extended those deadlines—some until the end of December. 

The states that enrolled the most people in the first month unsurprisingly include large ones, like California with 600,000 sign-ups and New York with 250,000 sign-ups. Maryland, with the third highest total of 136,685 sign-ups, had one of the worst performing exchanges last year. It’s site was plagued with serious technical issues that ultimately resulted in an expensive and lengthy repair effort. 

Related: Over $5 Billion and Counting for Obamacare Websites 

Maryland reportedly spent an additional $40 million on top of the $90 million it originally cost to build the flawed website. 

Several other states had such major problems with their websites that they either had to undergo massive repair efforts or scrap their sites and rely on the federal exchange for this year, as Nevada and Oregon did. All together, repairing the worst state exchanges (as well as moving states to the federal exchange) cost at least $474 million in federal tax dollars. 

Officials, lawmakers and others watching the health care rollout still have serious concerns about the backend of the websites, which aren’t fully built. This is the portion of the system communicating with the IRS and insurance companies. 

For now, that part of the process is done manually. 

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