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Week Four of the health insurance exchange marketplace: What’s the deal with government contractors?

Oct 25th, 2013

Welcome to our final week of coverage for the first month of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange markeplace. And wowie, it certainly had been one heck of a month.

health insurance exchange marketplace

Credit: Daniel Rehn via Flickr under Creative Commons

For those of you just joining us, the state and federal health insurance marketplaces of the Affordable Care Act opened for business to the public earlier this month on October 1st. These marketplaces, also more commonly know as exchanges, are the online shops where Americans can purchase federally subsidized health insurance plans that also meet the standards of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, often now more popularly known as Obamacare.

We’ve been covering the goings on of the health insurance exchanges here on our blog for the past four weeks. I’ll quickly recap what’s been happening, but if you’d like to get a little more in depth take a look at our other blog posts and leave us a comment, or maybe a tweet?

But yes it’s been a rough few weeks for the Obama administration. First starting on October 1st due to the inability to reach a budgeting agreement the federal government shutdown. It remained that way until last week when Democrats and Republicans were finally able to reach an agreement of sorts to reopen the government and raise the country’s debt ceiling.

In the mean time while the government shutdown battles took center stage, another potentially disastrous crisis was brewing. As soon as the health insurance exchange marketplace flipped their switches on October 1st, most of them were offline within the first hour. The problem was a huge crush of people attempting to log onto the exchange websites. It’s not known how many visitors in that initial rush were actually looking to buy a policy and how many were digital “tire-kickers” just looking to see what the prices are without buying anything.

The 17 states that established their own health insurance exchanges reacted quickly and scaled up their exchange technology to meet demand. At this point four weeks later the majority of state exchanges are operating on or close to normal. But the big sticking point has been the flailing terrible operation of the federal health insurance exchange marketplace, which is servicing the other 33 states who opted not to establish their own exchanges.

The federal exchange has been experiencing some extreme technical glitches that have not gotten much better over the last few weeks. These glitches are preventing many people from creating profiles on Healthcare.gov. Those lucky enough to actually make it through the process of creating a profile might have bigger problems. According to major news outlets a fairly decent proportion of those applications that submitted are missing information or are corrupted in some way.

None of that bodes well for the immediate future of the Affordable Care Act. Now with the fiscal crisis and threat of a federal debt default behind us, Democrats and Republicans in both houses are attempting to get to the bottom of the problems with the federal exchange.

President Obama announced this week a “tech surge”, of IT professionals in an attempt to fix the bugs in the Healthcare.gov system, a reference no doubt to the infamous troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president also announced that Jeffrey Zients will be leading the team.

Congress held a session this week where it questioned representatives of the various contractors hired to build Healthcare.gov. But there were more questions than answers raised during the hearing. This week’s news cycle has been awash in new information these contractors, like how bad their code is, and how late the federal government waited to until the bitter end to test the system.

One of the bigger stories out of these week is the news that the federal government will delay enforcement of the individual mandate next year in order to give people more time to buy health insurance. This doesn’t really amount to much of a delay in the ACA implementation, but there are certainly some politicians who are thinking that might not be such a bad idea.

Anyway so with no immediate solution on the horizon for these technical problems it looks like this saga is far from over. In an ideal world everything would have worked from the start right? But it’s a complicated system that needs to vet all of your personal information against several sources simultaneously as you create an account (just check out the our first article on the exchange rollout for a more detailed overview).

So with clearly more to come, stay tuned for a more updates as the year progresses and we see whether the administration is up to the task of fixing the federal exchange in a timely fashion.

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