Obama administration looks for workaround for healthcare.gov
Seeking to bypass the cliunky and glitchy website healthcare.gov, the Obama administration is looking at major changes regarding how people sign up for insurance and receive subsidies.
People interested in buying health insurance under Obamacare could soon skip the HealthCare.gov website and apply for coverage and financial assistance directly with private insurance companies and online brokers, the Obama administration said Tuesday, in its latest effort to work around the faulty website.
Health insurers and online brokers like eHealth have always sought the ability to let consumers to apply for subsidies to cut their health insurance costs without using HealthCare.gov, the online portal to health coverage in more than 30 states. But technological snafus with the system linking insurers to the federal government ruled out that option, even as HealthCare.gov itself has remained problematic.
Now these insurance issuers and brokers are about to get what they want. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is close to providing insurers with the technological capability to also take subsidy applications, as well as sell plans to customers, spokeswoman Julie Bataille said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
"We've put in place a number of the most important fixes. This is something that issuers are going to look at within the context of their own systems, and I believe that, in the coming days, as they make their own assessments, they will make determinations about what may be appropriate," she said.
Activating the "direct enrollment" option would free health insurers and online brokers to accept applications from people who are eligible for subsidies, thus widening the potential universe of people who wouldn't need to use HealthCare.gov to get health insurance. Although going directly to a health insurance company or a private broker would mean consumers couldn't comparison shop for all available options, it would make it easier to obtain coverage for next year in advance of the Dec. 15 deadline to choose a plan that will be in place on New Year's Day. The full enrollment period runs until March 31.
Previously only those who visited the exchanges were able to apply for a federal subsidy. With the new rules - not yet finalized - consumers should be able to go through the entire process of signing up for insurance, figuring their subsidy, and paying their premiums by contacting the insurance company or an online broker.
We're looking at tens of millions of people needing to get insurance so you can expect bottlenecks and slow websites for insurers also. More importantly, these changes signal that the Obama administration is not going to entertain any ideas about delaying the indivudal mandate. No matter how much trouble consumers have in purchasing insurance, that's not their problem. If a way is open for a taxpayer to buy insurance, they will be forced to do so or pay the fine.