My hair would be on fire, says ex-HHS official
If the technology problems plaguing the Obamacare health insurance exchanges are fixed in a month, "no one will remember this episode," said Joel Ario, former director of health insurance exchanges at the Department of Health and Human Services.
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"I don't know how long this will take. That's for the experts. But we do know that the business fundamentals are sound," he added. "Most people don't want to pay money for a product that won't take effect until January in October. They would rather pay late November, early December. So that's the window to fix this problem."
He continued, "As long as that problem is fixed at the time when people want to go to the checkout line, it's fine. I don't think those young people are looking to buy today."
While the Obama administration scrambles to fix the tech problems hammering the sign-up for the health-care law, the White House is working on revised guidance on when most uninsured Americans will be required to purchase coverage.
To adhere to the so-called individual mandate, people have until Dec. 15 to apply for coverage that's effective Jan. 1. Even though open enrollment lasts until March 31, individuals would face a tax penalty if they postpone buying insurance beyond mid-February.
But under the proposed change, individuals will only be expected to have started enrollment by March 31.
"The people who most need the coverage will wait however long they have to wait to get through the lines and get the product," Ario said. "And people who don't need it as much today, who are very important to have inside this law, will be a bit more impatient." He was referring to the young people needed to make Obamacare work, because they'll presumably pay into the system but use the coverage less frequently.
Top White House officials met Wednesday with leading insurance CEOs to talk about ways to solve the tech issues with Healthcare.gov, which the federal government runs for 36 states not operating their own exchanges.
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The problems have plagued the federal Healthcare.gov site, but some state sites have been running more smoothly.
"If every state is doing what Kentucky is doing today, we'd be well on the way to the 7 million enrollees already. They've enrolled proportionally more than they need to move toward that number," Ario said.
"The states are succeeding. We certainly don't want to stop them from going ahead right on time. And once that's true, the federal government, I think, has the obligation to make sure the law goes forward for everybody else as well. "
"So I think it'll go forward on time. It's just a question whether we'll have full online functionality," he said, but noted that people can also buy coverage in more traditional ways.
"There are multiple ways to get through the checkout line here. You can do it on paper still. You can call somebody on the phone and work through it on a phone call. You can go to an insurance companies still. You can go to Web brokers."