The first week of November, 2013, was a very bad week for the health care reform project. Healthcare.gov continues to stumble. Although the Department of Health and Human Services continues to insist in daily briefings that the performance of the website is improving, and that it will be fully operational by the end of November, improvement is frankly not yet visible. Full functionality in time for millions of Americans to enroll in coverage in time for the premium tax credits becoming available on January 1, 2104, looks increasingly unrealistic.
The news of the week, however, focused not only on the website woes, but also on millions of Americans in the individual and small group markets who have received notices that their current coverage is not going to be available in 2014 and that the policies that are available are going to cost them more, and in some instances impose higher cost-sharing obligations. The media have characterized these notices as “cancellation” notices, but in fact in most instances they are not terminating coverage as such, but rather changing the form of coverage that is available. In any event, enrollees receiving these notices are understandably upset and are complaining loudly to the media and to their congressional representatives.
Both HHS Secretary Sebelius and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Tavenner testified before Congressional committees, facing hostile questions (indeed demands for resignation in the case of Sebelius) from Republicans, who have long fought against the legislation, and anxious pleas from Democrats, who have long stood by it. At the end of the week, President Obama, apologized to those whose premiums were increasing, saying, “I’ve assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law,” and suggesting that there might be some sort of “administrative fix” that could help those whose costs were increasing but who would not be eligible for the premium tax credits.
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