Obamacare Glitch Gives Americans Incorrect Subsidy Estimates

Monday, 24 Mar 2014 08:18 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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A new glitch affecting the Healthcare.gov website has given millions of Americans incorrect estimates of the subsidies they might receive under the new Obamacare system.

The error came to light when journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer entered several hypothetical incomes into the calculator on Heathcare.gov, only to discover that it was using the incorrect year's poverty level guidelines to determine subsidy eligibility. The discovery comes nearly six months after Obamacare's disastrous launch and just 10 days before the enrollment deadline.

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The error, "again raises questions about the site's accuracy that made daily headlines in early winter and that have cost President Obama considerable political capital," the Inquirer wrote.

"It also highlights what some public policy experts say is a troubling lack of transparency in the marketplace's eligibility determinations," the publication added. 

Because signups for the Affordable Care Act began in 2013, the law mandates that 2013's official poverty levels be used in determining hardship and subsidies. However, the site appeared to have been using 2014's official metrics instead.

That means that people with incomes slightly over the 2013 level are told they qualify for subsidies, only to find out later that they don't.

A spokesman for The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said they are fixing the problem with the calculator now that it has been discovered. The spokesman, Aaron Albright, told FoxNews.com there is a "small difference" between 2013 and 2014's poverty level guidelines, however "we have updated the tool for clarity." CMS also said the incorrect information has only been generated since mid-February.

"The window shopping tool on the learn side of HealthCare.gov is intended only to be used as an unofficial estimate that consumers can use before completing their application, which is where they get their official determination," Albright said. "We encourage consumers to complete their Marketplace application, where they will get an accurate determination of their tax credits."

Many experts say this two-step system might encourage people to stop their search after using just the calculator.

"I think this will all reconcile. But it doesn't help somebody who doesn't think they are eligible," Robert Laszewski, a former insurance-industry executive who is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, told the Inquirer. "It's just another one of those, 'Why did they do that?'"

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