Tech Glitches Trip Obamacare Exchange Launches

Several state health insurance exchanges say their websites might not be 100% functional on Oct. 1 launch date because of bugs that incorrectly calculate policy prices, among other problems.
These are just the glitches that have come to light in advance of the launch of the exchanges. There probably will be more when the health pricing websites go live. However, consumers should not panic if they can't enroll on Oct. 1; plans purchased through the exchanges won't go into effect until January. Dan Diamond, managing editor at healthcare consultancy The Advisory Board Company, noted that consumers who are desperate to secure health insurance and haven't been able to do so any other way likely will be persistent, despite bumps they might encounter on Oct. 1.

"Overwhelmingly, the Americans who will be shopping through the exchanges this fall are the ones who have pined for this moment for months, if not years: The chronically ill who wanted coverage but couldn't get it, or the low-income Americans who couldn't afford it. They likely won't be deterred by a few software glitches," he said.

The prices consumers will be able to get through the exchanges are looking better than originally expected, according to an government analysis released this week, although it's probably built around best case scenarios.

As quoted in The New York Times, President Obama bragged that, "I can tell you right now that in many states across the country, if you're, say, a 27-year-old young woman, don't have health insurance, you get on that exchange, you're going to be able to purchase high-quality health insurance for less than the cost of your cellphone bill." This was at a health care forum in New York City where he appeared with former President Bill Clinton.

The actual prices vary from state to state, but the reported prices are better than earlier estimates, and more than 95% of consumers will be able to choose from two or more health plans for which they are eligible. The analysis is based on states where the federal government is directly involved in running the exchanges, where on average 53 qualified health plans are participating.

To make plans more comparable in an exchange, the government has imposed a marketplace structure that includes plans categorized as bronze, silver, gold and platinum, from cheapest and least comprehensive to most expensive and all-encompassing. The analysis released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services focused on pricing for the second cheapest plan, the silver option, which covers about 70% of projected medical costs for a typical consumer. That average premium for an individual will be about $328, according to the report. That's the average cost of the lowest-priced plan, and the effective price would be lower for those who qualify for tax credits.

Now, if the exchanges can just get in shape to calculate those prices correctly.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr or Google+. His book Social Collaboration For Dummies is scheduled for release in October 2013.