Another month of fixes for health care website

By Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 10:35 a.m. MDT

"In a few short months, families across the country will be subject to penalties under the law's individual mandate," he said. "How can the administration punish innocent Americans by forcing them to buy a product many cannot afford, from a system that does not work?

Zients gave some new details about the extent of the problems, but administration officials are still refusing to release any numbers on how many people have successfully enrolled. Although 700,000 have applied for coverage through the new online markets, it's believed only a fraction of that number actually managed to sign up. Before the website went live, an administration estimate projected nearly 500,000 people would sign up in October alone.

The marketplaces are the gateway to obtaining health insurance under the new health care law, which requires most Americans to have coverage by Jan. 1. Middle-class people who don't have insurance on the job can purchase a private plan with new tax credits to make the premiums more affordable. Low-income people will be steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that agree to extend the safety net program.

The federal government is running the insurance markets or taking the lead in 36 states. The rest were set up by states themselves.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage to take effect Jan. 1. Under the law, pre-existing medical conditions will no longer be a barrier. But the markets also need lots of young, healthy customers to keep premiums affordable. Open enrollment season extends until Mar. 31.

Zients said almost daily fixes are already having an impact. For example, more than 90 percent of users can now complete one of the first steps, creating an account.

But the application process, which involves submitting and verifying personal information and income details, remains "volatile," he said. At one point, as few as one-third of users were getting through that part.

Zients said there are two big categories of problems. Performance issues involve the speed and reliability of the website. Functional issues are bugs that keep the software from working as intended. Among the high-priority issues is that insurers are getting enrollments with incomplete, incorrect or duplicative information.

Online:

Obama's address: http://www.whitehouse.gov

Republican address: http://www.gop.gov

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