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Barack Obama

White House Touts Obamacare Numbers, Schumer Waits to Judge



 (WBEN/AP) - The White House says the government's health care website received 375,000 visitors on Monday by noon. That's a surge in use on the first business day since Obama administration officials declared that the government's beleaguered online insurance service was now able to accommodate a vast majority of users.

 
In Buffalo Monday , Senator Charles Schumer reiterated his position on the rollout of Obamacare.

"I was, as you know, here in Buffalo and elsewhere I was a strong critic of how it rolled out. I thought it was not done well" Schumer said.
  
The launch of the website on Oct. 1 proved to be disastrous. The administration spent the next two months working to upgrade the computer system.
  
Consumers were still experiencing delays on Monday. Carney says users were placed in a queue and advised when to return for speedier service.

Schumer says that he will have a "wait and see" approach when it comes to determining whether or not Healthcare.gov is truly fixed, or if the law needs to be delayed in order to be carried out properly.

"We've seen in the last day it looks considerably better, but I think we're going to have to give it a few days, give it a little while, before making any kind of final judgment."
 
   
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Counselors helping people use the federal government's online health exchange are giving mixed reviews to the updated site, with some zipping through the application process while others are facing the same old sputters and even crashes.

The Obama administration had promised a vastly improved shopping experience on healthcare.gov by the end of November, and Monday was the first business day since the date passed.

Brokers and online assisters in Utah say three of every four people successfully signed up for health coverage on the online within an hour of logging in. A state official overseeing North Dakota's navigators said he had noticed improvements in the site, as did organizations helping people sign up in parts of Alabama and Wisconsin.

But staffers at an organization in South Florida and a hospital group with locations in Iowa and Illinois said they have seen no major improvements from the federal website, which 36 states are relying on.

Amanda Crowell, director of revenue cycle for UnityPoint Health-Trinity, which has four hospitals in Iowa and Illinois, said the organization's 15 enrollment counselors did not see a marked improvement on the site.

"We had very high hopes for today, but those hopes were very much quashed," said Crowell. She said out of a dozen attempts online only 1 person got  to the point of plan selection, though the person decided to wait.

The site appeared to generally run smoothly early Monday morning before glitches began slowing people down. By 10 a.m., federal health officials deployed a new queue system that stalls new visitors on a waiting page so that those further along in the process can finish their application with fewer problems.

About 750,000 had visited the site by Monday night - about double the traffic for a typical Monday, according to figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Roberta Vann, a certified application counselor at the Hamilton Health Center, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said the site worked well for her Monday morning but she became frustrated later when the site went down.

"You can get to a point, but it does not allow you to select any plans, you can't get eligibility (information). It stops there," she said. "The thought of it working as well as it was didn't last long."

In South Florida, John Foley and his team of navigators were only able to successfully enroll one of a handful of return applicants who came to their office before glitches started, including wonky estimates for subsidy eligibility. He worried about how they would fare with the roughly 50 other appointments scheduled later in the week.

Despite the Obama administration's team of technicians working around the clock, it's not clear if the site will be able to handle the surge of applicants expected by the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll for coverage starting at the beginning of the year. Many navigators also say they're concerned the bad publicity plaguing the troubled website will prevent people from giving the system another try.

"There's a trust level that we feel like we broke with them. We told them we were here to help them and we can't help them," said Valerie Spencer, an enrollment counselor at Sarah Bush Lincoln Center, a small regional hospital in the central Illinois city of Mattoon.

Federal health officials acknowledged the website is still a work in progress. They've also acknowledged the importance of fixing back-end problems as insurers struggle to process applications because of incomplete or inaccurate data. Even when consumers think they've gone through the whole process, their information may not get to the insurer without problems.

"We do know that things are not perfect with the site. We will continue to make improvements and upgrades," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

President Barack Obama's new and improved health care website faces yet another test in just a couple of weeks, its biggest yet. If HealthCare.gov becomes overwhelmed by an expected year-end crunch, many Americans will be left facing a break in their insurance coverage.

Until now, the main damage from the website's technology woes has been to Obama's poll ratings. But if it chokes again, it will be everyday people feeling the consequences.

Some of those at risk are among the more than 4 million consumers whose individual policies have been canceled because the coverage didn't comply with requirements of the new health care law. A smaller number, several hundred thousand, are in federal and state programs for people whose health problems already were a barrier to getting private insurance before the overhaul.

"The chances are almost 100 percent that someone who would like to continue coverage next year and intends to secure it is not going to be able to do it," said Mark McClellan, who oversaw the rollout of the Medicare prescription drug benefit under President George W. Bush.   "It's important to recognize that none of these programs are going to work perfectly from the start and a big part of implementation is having mechanisms in place that anticipate problems and help mitigate their effects," added McClellan, now a health care policy expert with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

But on Monday, administration officials projected renewed confidence that they're on top of things. White House spokesman Jay Carney declared that the federal site serving 36 states got 375,000 visitors by noon.

Even as fixes continued on back-end features of the system, enrollment counselors said the consumer-facing front end was working noticeably better - but still was not free of glitches or delays. As Carney acknowledged, some of Monday morning's visitors were shuttled into a queue and advised when to return for speedier service. That's actually an improvement to handle high volume, he said.

IThe health care law offers subsidized private insurance to middle class people who don't have access to job-based coverage. The White House is aiming for 7 million people to enroll for private plans through new state-based marketplaces also called exchanges. Low-income people will be steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states accepting it. People have until Dec. 23 to sign up for coverage that starts on Jan. 1.

An even bigger enrollment surge is expected the first part of next year, ahead of a March 31 deadline to avoid the law's tax penalties for those who remain uninsured.

If consumers still have unresolved issues, so do the feds. Among them:

THE BACK ROOM

Private insurers complain that much of the enrollment information they've gotten on individual consumers is practically useless. It is corrupted by errors, duplication or garbles. Efforts to fix underlying problems are underway, but the industry isn't happy with the progress and is growing increasingly concerned.

Over the weekend, as government officials trumpeted improvements to the website, the leading industry trade group pointedly called attention to the data mess. The president of the largest health insurance trade group said the website fix won't be complete until the entire system works from end to end. Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, raised the prospect that consumers might not be able to get access to needed benefits Jan. 1.

"There really needs to be an intense focus now on the back end of the process," said Joel Ario, who oversaw initial planning for the insurance marketplaces in the Obama administration and is now a top consultant with Manatt Health Solutions.

Administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille said that's already happening. More than 80 percent of insurers' problems were due to one bug that affected Social Security numbers, she said. That's been fixed.

CRAFTING A NEW PITCH

Largely because of the federal website problems, major advertising campaigns encouraging everyone from the young and hip to the middle aged and health conscious to enroll have been put on hold.

The worry now is that the technology debacle may have done lasting harm to the outreach plan. And even a revamped website with new bells and whistles is going to have to compete for attention with the year-end holidays.

"The real question in my mind is can they turn around the messaging?" said Caroline Pearson, who is tracking the overhaul for Avalere Health, a market analysis firm. "They've had eight weeks of terrible press. Can they begin to reach out with a message of things are fixed and we're back on track?"

It's unclear how much candor will creep into the pitch. Some enrollment counselors feel a need to acknowledge the problems.

Looking back on the weeks of failed attempts to enroll people through the marketplace, Spencer, in central Illinois, laments the feelings of broken trust.

"We told them we were here to help them and we (couldn't) help them," she said.

Still, some people returned again and again to keep trying to get through the process. "They keep trusting us and they keep coming back," Spencer said.

President Obama will focus on the broader benefits of the health care plan Tuesday at a White House event where he'll be flanked by people the administration says have been helped by the law. He'll also take aim at Republicans, arguing the GOP is trying to strip away those benefits without presenting an alternative.


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Locations : BuffaloWashington
People : Charles SchumerJay Carney
12/03/2013 6:42AM
White House Touts Obamacare Numbers, Schumer Waits to Judge
Please enter your comments below.
12/03/2013 8:09AM
Now what?
Guess it's back to Benghazi!, Obamaphones, IRS, Fast and Furious and whatever fake non-scandals Foxnews can come up with. In the meantime it's good to see Your Great Leader has been calling the Pope a Marxist and declaring war on the Catholic Church. Please proceed, wingnuts. Keep doing what you're doing.
12/03/2013 10:16AM
Ten Years From Now
You will be singing the praises of ACA. You'll no longer call it "Obamacare" but attribute the original idea to Saint Reagan, Saint Bush, or their Prophet Limbaugh, and fight tooth and nail any attempt to change or reduce it. Mark my words.
12/03/2013 12:53PM
Really, Obamacare is the answer!
We will see how much more the debt goes up from this (on top of the 17 Trillion) that the "smartest man alive" has gotten us up to (oh, wait a minute George Bush must be responsible for that). I will bet that when this is all said and done there will be less people covered by health insurance than prior to it once people see that it is not another freebee.
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