With time-running out before the major provisions of President Obama’s health care law are set to be implemented, the official tasked with making sure the law’s key insurance exchanges are up and running is already lowering expectations.
“The time for debating about the size of text on the screen or the color or is it a world-class user experience, that’s what we used to talk about two years ago,” Henry Chao, an official at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services who is overseeing the technology of the exchanges said at a recent conference. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”
Chao also described himself as “nervous.” His comments, which came at a policy meeting of insurance industry lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, were first reported by CQ Health Beat and picked up by Avik Roy at Forbes.
The idea of regulated insurance exchanges, on which eligible individuals can use government subsidies to purchase insurance coverage, is central to the law. By 2023, the Congressional Budget Office projects that 25 million Americans will obtain coverage through the exchanges.
As originally pitched, the exchanges were to be easy to use — like Expedia or Orbitz for health insurance — allowing users to fill out basic information, have the government database verify their eligibility, and then enable them to choose among competing plans.
But achieving this has been proving to be a huge hurdle. The exchanges are supposed to be available for open enrollment by Oct. 1 and benefits are supposed to kick in on January 1. Also adding to the workload — 26 states have chosen to let the federal government set up their exchanges.
The CQ article also quotes Gary Cohen, director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, as conceding that the exchanges may not be fully functional in all 50 states in time. “I think it’s only prudent to not assume everything is going to work perfectly on day one and to make sure that we’ve got plans in place to address things that may happen,” Cohen said.