An Obama administration official said the “back end” aspects of the faulty federal healthcare exchange, including its accounting and payment system linked to insurance companies, still needed to be built.
Henry Chao, the official who oversaw the technical development of the Healthcare.gov website at the centre of a political storm in Washington, told a congressional committee that the team that is working on fixing the website had yet to complete 30 to 40 per cent of the project. He added, though, that the yet-to-be-completed work would not impact users of the web portal, which is supposed to be functioning for 80 per cent of Americans by the end of next week, because the online application and verification systems were already “100 per cent there”.
Robert Laszewski, a frequent critic of the healthcare law, said of Mr Chao’s testimony: “[It’s] like a bank starting business and attracting customers without finishing their ability to send their customers’ monthly statements.”
He added: “Chao’s comments just underscore the risk for considerable backroom [errors] and therefore customer service issues when volume picks up.”
Even amid the bad news about the depth of the problems facing the federal online health exchange, President Barack Obama said at a conference sponsored by the Wall Street Journal that the administration would have “time to catch up” and enrol millions of Americans seeking health insurance by the March 31 deadline next year.
He expressed caution, however, on another aspect of the failed rollout of the healthcare exchanges that is also a concern to the insurance industry: namely, whether the websites are attracting enough young and healthy people to ensure that the insurance risk pool is diverse enough by the end of March to keep premium prices low. Experts estimate that the administration needs about 2.7m healthy people, of 7m who are expected to sign up for healthcare, to create the right balance.
“We might end up having millions of people sign up, they’re happy with their new coverage, but we’ve got more people who are older, more likely to get sick than younger and healthier,” Mr Obama said. “We’ve got to monitor that carefully.”
He pointed a finger of blame, too, at Republicans, whom he said had never been invested in the success of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s 2010 healthcare law, and had made “finetuning” the legislation much more difficult.
Hinting at political battles that may still lie ahead of him, including with members of his own party who have been critical of the rollout, Mr Obama said it was critical that the administration keep “improving the customer experience and make sure we’re fending off efforts not to fix the problem”.
Mr Obama also acknowledged that he should have identified earlier the US government’s inefficient handling of IT procurement, saying it would have been better to deal with IT issues on the “front end” instead of the “back end”.
“There’s probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than IT,” he said.
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