WASHINGTON – Two months before the second enrollment period begins to purchase health insurance through the online marketplaces set up by the Affordable Care Act, Congress is asking if it’s going to go more smoothly this year.
The federal website, HealthCare.gov, has been plagued with problems and technical glitches since its initial launch on Oct. 1. This summer, the site was successfully hacked for the first time, raising further questions about its security.
At a Wednesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, subcommittee Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, pressed Andrew Slavitt, deputy director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for answers.
“I think the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov has created a lack of trust among the American people as well as promises not kept,” Brady said. “So what are you doing to make sure the second year of the A.C.A is not like the first year and steps will be taken to regain the trust of the American people, regardless of what party they are, they’re just simply concerned about their health care?”
Slavitt said his agency has been rolling out new functionality for the website all summer and has built in more time for testing. He said the website won’t be perfect come open enrollment on Nov. 15, but that the right processes are “in place to get it as good as it should be.”
Similarly, Maryland’s website, Maryland Health Connection, experienced a rocky rollout, crashing on its first day and requiring repeated fixes. State officials announced earlier this year the site would get a rebuild.
“The contract with Deloitte (Consulting) for development of the new site is for about $41 million,” said Maryland Health Connection’s director of Marketing and Outreach Andrew Ratner in an email to Capital News Service. That’s on top of the $125.5 million the state spent trying to fix the site before announcing the overhaul.
But despite the move, Ratner said “the development for this fall is on track.”
However Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, isn’t buying it.
“If you take the track record of this government and the implementation of it, I don’t see that happening,” Cluster said. “So it’s been a complete disaster when it comes to getting people to actually sign up for the Affordable Care Act in Maryland.”
Despite the troubled rollout, Maryland Health Connection has reported signing up nearly 78,700 Marylanders for insurance through the website – a number well below the number initially projected. *In 2012, Baltimore-based health research organization The Hilltop Institute said more than 389,000 individuals would be eligible to sign up for health insurance through the exchange, but predicted that only 147,200 of those would sign up in calendar year 2014.
Enrollment numbers under the A.C.A’s Medicaid expansion, however, have seen the opposite. Maryland was just one of 27 states and the District of Columbia to expand Medicaid under the A.C.A and the Maryland Health Connection reports almost 284,000 Marylanders have enrolled in Medicaid programs. The Hilltop Institute initially projected only about 101,700 would do so.
*An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the number of expected enrollees in Maryland. The story has been corrected.