Monday, March 31, 2014

Last-Day Rush Causes Another Malfunction of

WASHINGTON — For a second time on Monday, the federal website where consumers can sign up for medical coverage under President Obama’s health care law unexpectedly stopped taking applications. It is the last day of open enrollment for the year.

Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, indicated that the second failure occurred shortly after noon, and that it seemed to be caused by a flood of traffic on the site, Earlier, he had said that the first failure, for about three hours in the morning, was caused by a software error unrelated to traffic volume. By 1:40 p.m., Mr. Albright said the site was functioning normally again.

Before the second failure was fixed, he released a statement that said: “There are a record number of people trying to access right now — more than 100,000 people concurrently in the system as of noon. The tech team monitoring in real time has identified an issue with users creating new accounts. The application and enrollment tools are unavailable to new users at the moment. The tech team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”Although the sign-up functions were disabled, other parts of the site were functioning normally, Mr. Albright said. That included the Data Services Hub, which verifies data entered by consumers against federal databases at agencies including the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration.

Mr. Albright said that consumers who had started applications would be able to complete their enrollment after the latest problem was fixed. On Monday morning, the enrollment system on was taken offline for scheduled maintenance between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., but then remained down for several more hours because of a software bug discovered by technology personnel during maintenance.A surge of traffic has hit in the final days of open enrollment, the administration has said.

Last week, the administration said it would extend the deadline for people who tried to apply but were blocked by technical problems with the site. It also said that it had exceeded its revised goal of signing up six million people over the federal exchange and similar sites run by the states.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said during his daily briefing on Monday that he was not sure when final enrollment figures would be available. But, he said, “here on the last day of enrollment, we’re looking at a number substantially larger than six million people enrolled.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

White House Says ACA Enrollment Has Hit Their Revised Lower Goal of Six Million

White House Says Health Care Rolls Top Goal: 6 Million


WASHINGTON — The White House said on Thursday that more than six
million people had signed up for medical insurance plans under President
Obama’s health care law, exceeding the administration’s revised goal for
enrollment by the Monday deadline.

Demand for new policies has surged in recent days as the open
enrollment period draws to a close, the White House said, with 1.5 million
visits to and 430,000 calls to the program’s call centers on
Wednesday alone. The enrollment figure is up from five million a week

Mr. Obama, who was traveling in Italy, held a conference call to thank
volunteers who are helping to enroll uninsured Americans, officials said.
“The president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to redouble
their efforts over the next four days and leave no stone unturned in trying
to bring affordable health coverage to as many Americans as possible,”
White House officials said in describing the call.

Enrollment began in October. The administration recently scaled back
its original estimate of signing up seven million people.

Republican lawmakers have played down the enrollment numbers and
continued to press for an overhaul or a repeal of the law. Even some
Democratic senators in competitive re-election races have prescribed changes to the law.
Some conservative commentators took to Twitter on Thursday to ask
how many of the six million enrollees had paid their insurance premiums.
The White House has not been willing to say.

© 2014 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Report from the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange

Report from the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange about Maryland Health Connection, the state-based health insurance marketplace 
BALTIMORE (March 21, 2014) -- As we enter the final days of open enrollment, we have seen a spike in interest and activity on Maryland Health Connection.
Counting both individuals who have gained Medicaid coverage and those who have selected a private health plan through Maryland Health Connection, 248,230 Marylanders have enrolled in coverage since January 1. This includes 203,394 Marylanders in Medicaid and 44,836 through private health plans. This puts Maryland more than 95 percent of the way towards our goal of 260,000 gaining coverage during the first open enrollment period.
We continue to do everything we can to get as many Marylanders as possible enrolled by March 31. Marylanders who have not yet enrolled are encouraged to visit to complete an application and enroll in coverage.

------If you are not eligible for a subsidy through the exchanges and need coverage directly and quickly you can click this link for a medical and/or dental plan through Carefirst Blue Cross Blue Shield.  
Thanks, Ben

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Obama administration allows health plan renewals for two more years

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 5, 2014 6:10pm EST
(Reuters) - The Obama administration said on Wednesday it would allow health insurers to extend plans that fail to comply with its signature healthcare law for an additional two years, giving some consumers the option of keeping their policies into 2017.
In a release of comprehensive insurance guidelines for next year, officials also said the government was extending the 2015 open enrollment by one month to create a three-month period running from November 15, 2014, to February 15, 2015.
The guidelines also presented an early glimpse of the cost of Obamacare-compliant plans, saying the annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses for consumers would rise to $6,600 for individuals and $13,200 for families. Expenses are currently capped at $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family.
The change in the renewal policy could help Democrats in November's congressional elections by eliminating the possibility of a new wave of insurance plan cancellations just before the vote. It also allows some policies to be continued past the November 2016 presidential election.
But administration officials described the guidelines as a response to conversations with a range of stakeholders including consumers, insurers and state regulators. They said the number of people affected, estimated at between 500,000 and 1.5 million, was expected to shrink rapidly as consumers shift into Obamacare-compliant policies.
The initial decision to allow one-year renewals last November followed a public outcry as millions of consumers received notice from insurers that their plans would be canceled because they did not comply with Obamacare's consumer protection standards.
Officials said on Wednesday the change would require them to adjust a risk mitigation program to protect insurers from unexpected losses, and indicated that they could relax a consumer-protection rule that currently prohibits insurers from spending more than 20 percent of plan revenues on administrative costs including marketing.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Peter Cooney)
-------Sadly all of those people who liked their medical plans but were pushed into ACA compliant plans won't be able to get them back....BBS

Monday, March 3, 2014

Only nine Marylanders have signed up for the states retroactive health insurance

Only nine Marylanders have signed up for temporary, retroactive health insurance made possible by emergency legislation aimed at helping people who tried to get coverage through the state’s faulty online health insurance marketplace, encountered problems and were stuck with medical bills to pay.
Two months ago, state officials predicted that as many as 5,000 people might need the help, which would have cost the state millions of dollars. Since then, the four health insurance companies participating in the state exchange offered their own retroactive insurance, helping about 300 households — and turning the state’s option into a last-resort for special cases.
The small number of enrollees “is a sign that there are not so many people who are having so many challenges that they are going that route,” said Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s secretary of health and mental hygiene, at a budget hearing Wednesday. “We’ve been doing an enormous amount of work — a lot of elbow grease — to try to patch different parts of the system so that we can get through open enrollment.”
But at budget hearings and an oversight meeting this week, a few lawmakers questioned whether the low number of is really a sign of success. Some asked what the state is doing to promote the option. Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley(R-Frederick) said Monday that he has diminishing confidence in the exchange’s ability to make any accurate predictions.
On Friday, federal health officials announced they will bend some of their rules in the coming month to help those living in states where the exchanges that have not been working well, which could include Maryland. The government plans to help pay for certain health plans that consumers buy on their own — not through the exchange — and help make that insurance retroactive.
Maryland was one of 14 states that decided to build its own online health insurance marketplace, a key feature of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, rather than rely on the federal version. But Maryland’ssite crashed on its first day and has yet to work as planned, greatly hindering enrollment in private health insurance plans.
As of Feb. 22, 35,636 Marylanders had enrolled in a private health plan through the exchange, far behind the original goal of having at least 150,000 people signed up by the end of March. Earlier this week, state officials announced that their goal was based on faulty research and that a better estimation is 75,000 to 100,000 people. Enrollment for those plans opened Oct. 1 and will close March 31. The next enrollment period, for insurance starting in 2015, will open Nov. 15.
The exchange has been working better than when it first launched,with technology officials saying that they have fixed hundreds of glitches and continue to work on hundreds more. But when the New Year rolled around, thousands of Marylanders who needed health insurance were still without it.
In early January, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) asked lawmakers to help those people. The administration proposed legislation to expand enrollment in a state-run insurance program — called the Maryland Health Insurance Plan — that was established a decade ago to help high-risk individuals who couldn’t get coverage elsewhere. People in dire need of health insurance could enroll in this program and receive coverage that is retroactive to Jan. 1 or the first day of following months. The premiums of these plans are often higher than in private plans, which was expected to motivate people to not stay for long.
As lawmakers weighed that option, the four insurance companies participating in the exchange provided their own retroactive health insurance. For one week in mid-January, Marylanders could register to receive insurance that would be retroactive to Jan. 1. More than 1,300 households expressed interest. Of those, 562 were found to be eligible for Medicaid and nearly 300 households enrolled. All of those applications had to be manually processed and did not go through the exchange.
Once that happened, state officials said there was less of a need for the state to also offer retroactive insurance, but they said there could still be a few hundred people who require the help.
When O’Malley signed the legislation into law in late January, he said: “If it affects just one family, it is worth the effort, especially depending on the condition or the size of a hospital bill or other treatment bill incurred.”
Carolyn A. Quattrocki, the exchange’s acting executive director, told lawmakers Mondaythat about 7,000 applications are still stuck in Maryland’s system. As for the exact number of people who are not getting the health insurance they seek, a spokeswoman for the exchange said Friday that they do not have “any reliable estimate.”
------The primary reason people are going to the exchanges is because they are eligible for subsidies or credits.  Even with the financial help for lower income people in the Maryland Health Insurance Plan the costs are considerably higher than those through the exchanges.  It seems most are willing to wait for exchange plans instead.  If you are not eligible for a subsidy, and in need of coverage, there is NO reason to subject yourself to the hassles of going through the exchanges.....BBS