Private Insurance Sector May Take On Larger Obamacare Role

Sunday, 10 Nov 2013 09:52 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Facing pressure from the public and Washington lawmakers, the Obama administration may be laying the groundwork for using the insurance industry to directly sign up large numbers of uninsured Americans, The Washington Post reported.

Insurers have been working behind-the-scenes on contingency plans should they be asked to step-in and take a larger role, The Post reported.

The White House is also turning to private insurers for technical help to fix the HealthCare.gov site. Starting this week industry computer specialists will work directly with those writing code for HealthCare.gov.

It was a "tacit acknowledgment that the federal insurance exchange" might not be fully operational as promised by Nov. 30, according to the Post.

Various contractors led by Quality Software Services have been working to repair the defects on the federal site.

Obamacare had always envisioned that consumers would be able to purchase insurance directly from the private sector, as part of a working HealthCare.gov site. Like the use of call centers and in-person enrollment assistants, these options were seen as ancillary to – not as workarounds for – the HealthCare.gov site, the Post said.

Should the insurers' sites become the chief way to buy coverage, it would chip away at the side-by-side comparison model that HealthCare.gov had been meant to provide.

Individual insurers are not obliged to inform customers about other available health plans, except for pointing them to the HealthCare.gov site.

Insurers have themselves been thwarted by the online system's technical glitches which has blocked them from connecting to the part of HealthCare.gov that determines whether a potential enrollees' income qualifies them for government subsidies.

One alternative being considered would be to invite insurers to provide interim subsidy estimates, using a formula approved by the government. To take on this task the private sector would want to be compensated for underpayments and not be penalized for any overpayments, the Post reported.

Jeffrey Zients, the Silicon Valley expert who has been called in to manage the crisis for the White House, told reporters that the site still remained "a long way from where it needs to be," according to the Post.

Related stories:

Official Who Oversaw Obamacare Website Will Retire

Obamacare Is Old Wine in a New Bottle

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