‘Vast Majority’ of Exchange’s Paper-Application Responses Still Not Mailed

by Jim Geraghty

Every time you read a news story, column, or commentary about Obamacare that begins, “Now that the web site is fixed” or “Now that the site is working,” laugh a bit. They’re using “not crashing for users” as a synonym for “fixed” or “working,” but there’s a lot more that the site has to do — and it still isn’t.

Today’s Washington Post features Julie Bataille of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services, explaining that the computer system is still not working correctly for administrators who need to process paper applications.

First she states that

some of the 50,000 to 60,000 [paper] applications have not been completed because consumers did not provide all of the required information, and workers from the outside company, Serco, have been unable to reach them by phone to fill in the blanks.

There’s another group of Americans who probably believe that they’re covered, or in the process of getting covered. Of course, without the completed application, they can’t get a bill for the first month’s premium. Without payment, you’re not covered. The Obama administration yesterday “strongly encouraged” insurance companies to “give consumers additional time to pay their first month’s premium and still have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014,” which is another way of saying provide insurance coverage to people who haven’t paid yet.

Here’s a giant problem:

Health officials have not decided exactly how people would be able to request such extra time, whether they need to ask by the December 23 deadline, and the precise circumstances under which HHS would grant an extension.

Here’s where the online system problems come in:

In other instances, paper applications were placed on hold until last week because parts of the online system needed to answer the eligibility system were not working well enough.

In still other cases, Serco workers ran into one of various computer errors when they tried to process a paper application, and that error has not been corrected.

Besides the applications in the backlog, about 100,000 paper applications have been processed, but those consumers were not told of the results until recently. The applications are supposed to be mailed notification letters, but none were mailed out until recently and the vast majority still have not. As a result, officials said, Serco workers last week tried calling the roughly 100,000 people to inform them of the eligibility decision and urge them to go online to sign up. It is not clear how many they were able to reach.