HealthCare.gov: Does Obama think victory is at hand?

The performance of HealthCare.gov, the Obamacare website, appears significantly improved, and President Obama will point that out Tuesday. But it's unclear whether crucial – though less apparent – fixes have been made.

Jon Elswick/AP
Performance of the HealthCare.gov website appears to have improved markedly for consumers trying to sign up.

HealthCare.gov is working much better. There seems little dispute about that. On Monday, 1 million people successfully visited the Affordable Care Act website, for instance, though some people had to hold on a waiting page while those further along in the process finished applications for coverage.

“Site stable, faster for users,” claimed the official HealthCare.gov Twitter feed on Tuesday morning.

Lower-income Americans made eligible for Medicaid under the terms of the ACA are also flooding into that safety net program. On Tuesday, the administration released a report saying that nearly 1.5 million people signed up for Medicaid in October. Enrollment was up 16 percent in states that agreed to the ACA’s terms for Medicaid expansion.

Is victory at hand? That’s what the White House seems set to say. On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama will appear with people who have benefited from the law, according to officials. It’s unlikely he’ll use the event to wring his hands over the flawed rollout of his signature domestic achievement.

But perhaps he should. At the least he might need to avoid sounding too sunny. That’s because it’s the front end of HealthCare.gov, the part consumers see, that’s much improved. The back end, which transmits the details of enrollees to insurers, is better as well, but it still has problems.

More ominously, those glitches may be retroactive. The enrollment records for one-third of the people who have signed up for insurance since HealthCare.gov opened for business contain errors, according to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post. That means they might not get the coverage they’re expecting to begin on Jan. 1.

“The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies,” write the Post’s Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin.

Insurance executives have been warning of this scenario for months. At issue are 834 enrollment forms, which the government website is supposed to send insurers every night to inform them of their new customers.

HealthCare.gov had problems with 834 form accuracy from the day the website opened. But the administration made fixing the front end a higher priority to try and dampen consumer anger.

A pivot to 834 fixes came later. In recent days, more than a dozen software bugs affecting the forms have been fixed. One big problem, which affected the proper entry of Social Security numbers, accounted for 80 percent of 834 problems, according to administration officials. That’s one of the things that has been straightened out, they say.

But insurance industry officials are still worried. Their nightmare is that sometime in January they’ll have to face angry consumers who think they’ve properly enrolled, but haven’t.

Does the White House “think that big customer service issues come January, if the ‘834’ back-end enrollment problems are not fixed by then, will be blamed on the insurance industry and not the administration?” writes Bob Laszewski, a consultant to the industry who has warned of this problem for weeks.

Enrollment for 2014 will remain open through March 31. At this point it is uncertain whether 7 million people will obtain insurance next year through the ACA’s insurance marketplace exchanges, as the Congressional Budget Office predicted when the law passed.

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