Working feverishly to meet its self-imposed deadline to get the Affordable Care Act’s website interface user-friendly (ie usable), the Obama administration once again extended the deadline. Realizing that having the federal Obamacare portal in ship-shape by November 30 was just not in the cards, the agency working on the website announced an 11 hour closure on Saturday, for extended maintenance. Now the update to announce an up-and-running portal is scheduled to take place on Sunday, instead of the previously announced Saturday.
After almost a month of frustration for users trying to access and/or use the ACA portal, which went on-line on October 1st, tech surge czar Jeff Zients pledged that the website, “will work smoothly for the vast majority of users” by November’s conclusion. Other Obama officials have reiterated this date several times since.
Zients announced that by the time all the latest bells and whistles will have been added the website’s capacity should double to about 50,000 users at a time. They are hoping for about 800,000 visitors to the site each day. These are the numbers which were hoped for when the site was first launched on October 1st.
The site is not expected to be perfect, however. Administration officials are warning users that there still could be long lines to get on the site, since during the first few days after the original launch as many as 250,000 tried to get on the site at once. If such numbers overwhelm the site again, people will be put on an online queue, receiving an email when Healthcare.gov can accept for visitors.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius cautioned people to expect long lines and no access at peak times. She asked people to shop for their healthcare plans during off-peak times, like early in the morning, late at night, or on weekends.
“The product is popular, so avoid the lines and shop HealthCare.gov during off-peak hours,” Sebelius wrote in a blog post.
Notwithstanding the less than ideal beginning for the Affordable Care Act during the past few weeks, Democrats dropped their partisan squabbles and supported a Republican bill which allows health insurers to continue to sell plans through 2014 despite the fact that they were cancelled automatically under the specifics of Obamacare.
Thirty-nine Democrats from the House sided with the Republican proposal, allowing the bill to pass by a wide margin, 261-157. The bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Fred Upton of Michigan. Observers say it was an impressive show of disloyalty to Obama, but Democrats would have defected in even larger numbers if the administration hadn’t promised on Thursday to find an administrative solution to the problem of cancellations.
The White House is threatening to veto the bill stating that the bill “threatens the health security of hard working, middle class families.”
The bill is not expected to get much attention in the Democratic-led Senate. Several Senate Democrats have proposed their own legislation to deal with the problems and bugs in the ACA.
A little-known option for Americans in search of health insurance on the newly launched insurance exchanges has been gaining publicity lately, perhaps despite the administration’s best efforts to keep it under wraps: and that is the ‘catastrophic’ health plan option.
Originally meant to be coverage for the under-30 crowd, it could actually be a viable stop-gap option for some of those people whose affordable plans are being terminated. The problem right now seems to be, however, finding the plan and signing up for it.
“Presumably, people would be able to get that as soon as the [enrollment system] is working,” said Tim Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University and expert on the Affordable Care Act. “That’s probably why they’re not pushing it real hard right now.”
This plan can also help people whose health insurance bill suddenly exploded. Not only can those under 30 get the catastrophic plan, but also older people who are exempt from the individual mandate due to their limited incomes. The problem is the Department of Health and Human Services has not finished building the system for applying for and certifying those exemptions. It could take several more weeks until they are.
Subsidies cannot be used to reduce the cost of the catastrophic option, but those eligible for subsidies can choose the so-called ‘bronze plan,’ the cheapest plan eligible for subsidies.
“The difference between catastrophic and bronze is very minimal,” said Yevgeniy Feyman, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “You might be paying $5 or $10 less for the catastrophic plan than the bronze. … The bronze plans are, in some way, becoming the new catastrophic plans.”
The catastrophic plan has been almost invisible in the public discussion of the Affordable Care Act. During the recent congressional testimony of the HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the head of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Marilyn Tenner mentioned the catastrophic plan only as an option for young people. The reality is however it is an option for others as well.