Healthcare.Gov

One week ago, in light of the growing COVID-19 crisis, I noted that California, the District of Columbia and Maryland were each offering Special Enrollment Periods which had nothing whatsoever to do with the pandemic.

California's SEP is for uninsured residents who didn't know that the state had reinstated the individual mandate penalty and expanded financial subsidies to those earning 400-600% of the Federal Poverty Line; DC is offering one for those who didn't know they had also reinstated the mandate penalty; and Maryland passed a clever law last year which lets residents check a box when they file their state taxes if they're uninsured which tells the state to contact them to help them enroll.

I concluded that:

...as far as I know, there's nothing preventing other state-based exchanges from establishing Special Enrollment Periods for the coronavirus crisis if they want to.

No one has been shouting from the rooftops louder than I have for HHS Secretary Alex Azar or CMS Administrator Seema Verma to join nearly all of the state-based ACA exchanges in announcing an official Special Enrollment Period (SEP) in light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and I'm still urging them to do so as soon as possible. The federal ACA exchange, HealthCare.Gov, hosts ACA enrollment for 38 states representing around 75% of the national population, so this is a pretty big deal.

Having said that, it's important to keep in mind that even without a COVID-19-specific SEP, many people already qualify to enroll in ACA-compliant healthcare coverage anyway, whether they're currently uninsured or because they're about to be...or because their personal circumstances are about to change. And none of these have anything to do with the COVID-19 crisis, although it's certainly going to cause a whole lot more people to qualify for two of those changes:

Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

In response to tremendous pressure after yesterday's major technical issues at HealthCare.Gov, CMS Administrator Seema Verma just announced that the deadline for people to #GetCovered in the 38 states which host their ACA enrollment platform with HealthCare.Gov will indeed be extended by 2 days:

We at @CMSGov want to ensure a seamless shopping experience for everyone seeking coverage, so starting at 3 pm ET today, we are extending the marketplace #OpenEnrollment deadline until 3 am ET December 18! https://t.co/HmVdpJlX2C

— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) December 16, 2019

(I originally misread this as being a 3-day extension, but it's only 2 days, since it runs through midnight Pacific Time on Tuesday.)

Dammit, I took a couple of hours off to rewatch The Force Awakens with my kid (in anticipation of The Rise of Skywalker coming out this week), and look what happens...

HealthCare.Gov is not letting people login to enroll. This is the second outage, the first lasted 15 minutes. We're 8 minutes into the second. Last time this happened, 100k people could not enroll. @CMSGov must extend the deadline.

— Joshua Peck (@JoshuaFAPeck) December 15, 2019

When I loaded the site, I got the same error screen...but when I refreshed, the login screen came back up again.

Over at the Washington Post, reporter Yasmeen Abutaleb has a disturbing-sounding story which immediately caught my eye and raised major internal alarms within the healthcare wonk/advocate community:

Critics say ‘junk plans’ are being pushed on ACA exchanges

The Trump administration has encouraged consumers to use private brokers, who often make more money if they sell the less robust plans.

The Trump administration is encouraging consumers on the Obamacare individual market to seek help from private brokers, who are permitted to sell short-term health plans that critics deride as “junk” because they don’t protect people with preexisting conditions, or cover costly services such as hospital care, in many cases.

So far, this is nothing new; I've been warning people about this since day one...it's the 2nd item on my "Seven Important Things to Remember" blog post from November 1st:

A week or so ago I  noted that several of the 13 state-based exchanges (remember, Nevada split off of HC.gov this year) had opened up their ACA exchange websites for prospective enrollees to window shop for 2020 coverage. One of them, Covered California, actually started allowing people to enroll already; the rest were for comparison shopping only.

Well, as of today, residents of every state can window shop for 2020 healthcare policies, because HealthCare.Gov has followed suit and is now letting you plug in your household & income info to see what plans are available next year, what the unsubsidized premiums are, and (most importantly for a lot of people) what sort of financial assistance you may be eligible for.

There have been some interesting modifications to the interface and workflow of HC.gov this year:

FEDERAL HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE 2020 OPEN ENROLLMENT 

HealthCare.gov incorrectly sent out open enrollment notices

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — In a statement issued by Nevada Health Link, the organization announced that it had become aware that the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace, known as HealthCare.gov had incorrectly sent notices to Nevada consumers regarding the upcoming open enrollment period.

The incorrect notices were sent to Nevada consumers via mail, email and through notices on the HealthCare.gov portal.

"These notices from the Marketplace were sent in error. Nevadans who received these notices from the Marketplace should be aware that NevadaHealthLink.com is the only place to get enrolled in a qualified health plan during the next open enrollment period beginning on November 1, 2019," said Heather Korbulic, Executive Director for the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.

Nevada consumers are asked to reach out to the Nevada Health Link consumer assistance center for further questions by calling 1-800-547-2927.

Not much to add here.

Some Guy, June 25, 2015 (right after the Supreme Court ruling in King vs. Burwell):

It's even conceivable--unlikely, but conceivable--that a few years from now, after 1) The ACA has become even more firmly entrenched nationally; 2) the software/technology for running a state exchange has become even more streamlined, simplified, faster, easier to use, cheaper, etc etc; and 3) (hopefully) some changed attitudes/changed administration officials (ahem), a few states on HC.gov now may even decide to go ahead and move onto their own "full" exchange/website after all...completely of their own volition.

February 2018:

Nevada wants out of federal health exchange

Nevada's Silver State Health Insurance Exchange took the first step on Thursday to getting out of the federal healthcare.gov system and build its own exchange.

UPDATE 3/26/19: In light of last night's bombshell announcement that the Trump DOJ is now officially calling for the entire ACA to be repealed in the #TexasFoldEm lawsuit, the wording of yesterday's press release from Trump's CMS division is straight out of 1984 territory:

CMS Issues the 2019 Exchange Open Enrollment Period Final Report
Agency also extends the policy allowing issuers to continue “grandmothered” plans

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today released the Health Insurance Exchanges 2019 Open Enrollment Report. With the Trump Administration’s focus on making healthcare more affordable, the report confirms another successful open enrollment period coinciding with a stabilization of premiums after years of substantial increases. Specifically, the report shows plan selections in Exchange plans in the 50 states and D.C. remained steady at 11.4 million. This represents a minimal decline of around 300,000 plan selections from the same time last year. Also, as outlined in the report, average total premiums for plans selected through HealthCare.gov dropped by 1.5 percent from the prior year, the first decline since the Exchanges began operations in 2014.

So I was reading this thread on Twitter...

When people say “oh the shutdown only affects government workers,” remind them that IT requires maintenance. GOV websites that help businesses are going offline by the dozens per week https://t.co/1wGeTgsCyy pic.twitter.com/sYmBwTYFSq

— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) January 17, 2019

How many government servers were not patched in the past month? How many applications and website frameworks were not updated? How many pentests were postponed? How many logs were not examined for intruders?

— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) January 17, 2019

Imagine if your private company simply stopped having employees show up for a month. The government is no different and the impact is larger than all but the most massive private sector orgs

— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) January 17, 2019

ACASignups.net, February 11, 2018:

That should mean that the average HC.gov premium is around $600 or so per month in 2018. The 3.5% surcharge hasn't changed for 2018, which means the federal exchange should take in something like $252/year per enrollee. Total enrollment in HC.gov plans was down 5% this year, so I'll assume average effectuated enrollment will be as well...somewhere around7.13 million per month. That means ~$1.8 billion in HC.gov revenue directly from the premium surcharge.

All of this brings me to my question:

As I warned back on December 19th when CMS released the Week 7 HealthCare.Gov Enrollment Snapshot Report, the final, official enrollment tally for the 2019 Open Enrollment Period was almost certain to end up slightly lower than the Week 7 cumulative numbers indicated. There are several reasons for this: Some people who were auto-renewed contact HC.gov to cancel their 2019 renewals, while others had their enrollments involuntarily denied or otherwise cancelled due to problems with verifying their identity, address or legal residency status.

Last year around 79,000 QHP selections were dropped in the final report; I expected this to be slightly lower, at around 75,000. I'm pleased to report, however, that according to CMS, only around 43,000 people were scrubbed from the 39 states hosted by HealthCare.Gov this year:

Final Weekly Enrollment Snapshot for the 2019 Enrollment Period

So, how likely is HC.gov to reach last year's total in the final week? Well...not very likely, but let's do the math anyway. Again, this is for the 39 states hosted by HC.gov only; it does NOT include the 12 state-based exchanges, which are mostly AHEAD of last year so far.

  • Last year, 8,743,642 people selected QHPs via HC.gov total:
    •  4,580,782 actively re-enrolled
    • 1,702,429 were auto-reenrolled
    • 2,460,431 were new enrollees
  • Of those 8.74 million total, there are likely around 6.16 million currently enrolled as of December
  • Last year, 97% of those still enrolled as of December re-enrolled (actively or passively). If that holds true this year, that'll be around 5.97 million total renewals
  • That means HC.gov would need 2.77 million new enrollees total

So, where did things stand as of 12/08?

Right alongside the 2019 Public Use Files being posted, HealthCare.Gov is now open for people to window shop for 2019 ACA individual market healthcare policies.

Remember, HC.gov only hosts the ACA marketplace for 39 states; 12 states operate their own marketplace websites, and most of those have been open for window shopping for several weeks now. In fact, Covered California has allowed people to actually sign up for 2019 since October 15th.

Fire up the Wayback Machine, Peabody, and take us to September 2015:

AP's NEW "HC.gov Security Flaws" story attacks problems FIXED UP TO A YEAR AGO.

Last night I posted what seemed, at first, to be a merely-amusing (if a bit depressing) story about a Florida news station website accidentally (?) reposting a year-old AP newswire story about potential security vulnerabilities at Healthcare.Gov:

"Critical" flaw found in HealthCare.gov security

WASHINGTON -- The government's own watchdogs tried to hack into HealthCare.gov earlier this year and found what they termed a critical vulnerability - but also came away with respect for some of the health insurance site's security features.

Those are among the conclusions of a report released Tuesday by the Health and Human Services Department inspector general, who focuses on health care fraud.

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