News Feature | November 18, 2014

Start To Second Enrollment Period Draws Mixed Reviews

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By John Oncea, Editor


Despite several bumps in the road, most feel the start to the second round of sign-up for Obamacare has gone well.

A Google News search for “how did the first day of Obamacare sign-ups go” yields a mixed bag of results. The Huffington Post writes the “Obamacare Train Not Wrecking As Sign-Up Period Kicks Off.” Politico adds “Obamacare’s second season opens with minor enrollment snags.” And USA Today reports “State, federal insurance sites face first-day hiccups.”

Ultimately, the consensus seems to be things went much smoother during the second enrollment period that began Saturday and continues through February 15, 2015. Not that it could have gone any worse than the first signup period.

According to a U.S. News & World Report roundup, “About 100,000 Americans submitted applications for health insurance on the first day of open enrollment for coverage in 2015” showing “that the refurbished website for the insurance marketplace was working for most users, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.”

The New York Times notes about 500,000 people logged into the site Saturday and, “Insurance counselors, agents, and brokers said that the application process went smoothly for new customers, but that people returning to the site often had difficulty unlocking their accounts and resetting their passwords.

“Administration officials said they were investigating the problems. An initial assessment by the Department of Health and Human Services says: ‘Many returning consumers had not reset their passwords from earlier this year when all consumers needed to reset. Some of the cases are due to consumers who are unable to recall their accurate usernames. There have also been some cases in which consumers did not have their passwords restored because of simple miscommunication.’”

Other instances of problems were detailed by USA Today, including:

  • “In San Antonio, agent Justin Holland said there were some delays as agents tried to help clients. The site would pause, or they would get an error message. ‘It looks like there are some bugs and glitches in there,’ he said.
  • In Richmond, Ind., agent Tyler Vanderpool of RMD/Patti Insurance said was slow, probably because ‘everybody's trying to jump on there.’ He used insurer websites to shop and get quotes because the sites responded faster, probably because they weren't getting as much traffic. ‘I don't know if ( has ever been prepared for the volume,’ Vanderpool said.
  • In Tennessee, Shervin Eftekhari, president of Zander Insurance Group, got a warning on that the site was really busy just as he was contacted by USA TODAY. He had seen problems throughout the day, but he said, ‘If you stick with it and hit refresh, eventually it lets you in.’
  • In Naples, Fla., Wayne Sakamoto asked a client who is also an early morning type to meet him at his office at 6 a.m. Saturday, so he wouldn't face delays. He was able to get the client into a plan, slowed only by numerous questions requiring verification of income.”

Despite these glitches, The New York Times writes, “Burwell said 23,000 people had completed online applications in the first eight hours after, the federal website, opened on Saturday morning. Enrollment counselors in Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas, all of which rely on the federal exchange, reported mostly smooth experiences.”

The Times quotes Lauren Banks, chief policy and advocacy officer at AIDS Alabama, a nonprofit group that has a federal grant to help people enroll , as saying, “The website was functioning perfectly all day. Today is what we hoped for a year ago. It’s a new start.”

The Washington Post notes that, “A s opening day unfolded for the second sign-up period under the Affordable Care Act, it became clear that the technical flaws that dominated the start of last year had faded, giving way to new questions: Can the administration and its allies convince 7.1 million people already insured through the marketplaces to shop again for a 2015 health plan that might suit them better? And can more than 20 million uninsured Americans, who were eligible for the coverage last time but did not sign up, somehow be coaxed to buy health plans now?”

Also taking a forward look was The Wall Street Journal, which points out “challenges remain for the rest of the enrollment period.

“Heavier traffic on sign-up sites is expected near two deadlines: Dec. 15, when existing consumers must make changes to plans in time for next year, and Feb. 15, when open enrollment ends. Insurers are concerned that the federal government lacks an efficient system for notifying carriers when their enrollees switch to other plans, which could lead some consumers to get billed for two plans next year.”

“Proponents can’t do a victory lap,” Christopher Condeluci, a Republican Senate aide during the drafting of the health law who is now principal at CC Law & Policy PLLC told The Wall Street Journal. “All they can say is they did better than last year.”