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RPT-Insurers fear more problems for revamped Obamacare website

Roberta Rampton
Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 1:47 PM ET

(Repeats to widen distribution)

WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Insurers fear that a retooling of the government-run health insurance website and a fresh surge of enrollees has opened the floodgates to more problems for President Barack Obama's health policy overhaul, a trade group said on Tuesday.

Obama planned to tout the reboot of HealthCare.gov in a speech on Tuesday as he sought to counter criticism of his reforms after the website's disastrous Oct. 1 launch sent his job approval ratings plummeting and threatened to damage fellow Democrats in next year's congressional elections.

The website, which allows consumers to shop around for insurance policies, is a main component of Obama's reform, which aims to provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans.

Technical issues persist, despite some newfound optimism in the administration about the rollout of the law known as Obamacare.

Insurers are receiving enrollment forms that have errors or are duplicated. And some go missing altogether, said Daniel Durham, a vice president for policy and regulatory affairs at America's Health Insurance Plans, a lobby group for health insurers.

Durham's comments raised fresh questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to sign up hundreds of thousands of Americans before a Dec. 23 deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014.

"So far we've been able to deal with these issues because there's been relatively low volume. It's been a heavy-duty manual process to make these fixes," Durham said at a forum organized by Georgetown University and law firm Arent Fox.

"But now that the floodgates are open at the front end ... we're going to see a lot more volume. And health plans just don't have the personnel to do all this manually," he said.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said more than 1 million new visitors checked out the website on Monday, the first day after a major overhaul of the site used to shop for health insurance required under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The administration, however, has not provided data on how many people logging into the website completed application forms and enrolled in insurance plans in November. The government is expected to provide the data later this month.

Republicans in Congress and conservative groups have attacked the law relentlessly since it was passed as an example of government overreach, criticism that has snowballed since the problems with HealthCare.gov.

Obama's administration is frantically trying to win back disgruntled Democrats facing a backlash from the healthcare debacle when they run for re-election next year in Congress. The president's overall job approval rating is at historic lows dropping to 41 percent in a mid-November Gallup poll.

The website was supposed to make it easy to buy health insurance in 36 states. Other states run their own marketplaces.

The administration says HealthCare.govsite has performed better after a major, weeks-long effort by contractors to fix the site.

The administration is now scrambling to repair and install functions on the "back end" of the system that are needed to finalize enrollments with insurers. This is seen as the next big stumbling block for the website.

(Editing by Ross Colvin and Grant McCool)