The Obama administration has been able to claim some good news this week, releasing an analysis showing that the strategy of creating a competitive market to drive down prices for individual health insurance seems to be working. However, technical problems with the websites created by the states or supported by the federal government mean they might not be capable of quoting accurate prices in some cases.
The exchanges, also known as health insurance marketplaces, are meant to make affordable health insurance available to the self-employed, to those who do not get insurance through their employers, and to small businesses. Like travel websites, they are supposed to be able to match consumer requirements against all available offerings and display a ranked ordering of the most affordable plans.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost calculator component of the software developed by the consulting firm CGI under contract with the federal government was spitting out incorrect results. Although the exchanges were envisioned under the law as being state-based, the federal government will operate the supporting online services in whole or in part for 36 states.
[ Are hospitals ready for the Oct. 1 launch of health insurance exchanges? Read State Insurance Exchanges: Hospital IT's Next Challenge. ]
Of the 14 states who plan to field their own software, Oregon has already announced that it will have to delay the launch of online services while bug fixing continues, although it will begin offline enrollment in the meantime. In Colorado and the District of Columbia, online enrollment will launch with limited functionality because of glitches in software for calculating eligibility for tax credits to offset the cost of insurance. In other words, consumers eager to secure a subsidized plan at the best price will have to check their options offline or wait until the online applications are fixed.