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Now that HealthCare.gov is working on the front end, attention has turned to the other broken part, the back end where the government forwards the enrollments to insurers. The process using what's called 834s, the files containing new customer enrollments, has been broken, and has been fodder for Obamacare opponents. But sources tell The New Republic's Jonathon Cohn that it's getting fixed and is already operating better.
In fact, one administration official tells The New Republic that preliminary estimates, just now becoming available, suggest the error rate has fallen from one in four during October to one in ten now. And most of those are files insurers received with errors, as opposed to files insurers never received. Plenty of work remains—namely, completing repairs that reduce the error rate further and dealing with the flawed data insurers have already received. But the administration is working with insurers and contractors on both issues. [...]
While the rate of error is declining, the pace of enrollment is increasing, which means the system may still be creating too many flawed files. Even when the error problem finally falls to acceptable levels, the past errors will need attention. Nobody has said exactly how many people will end up in this category, but the administration source said a rough guess would put the eventual number in the tens of thousands.
The administration says that most of the existing errors are information within the data transmitted—incorrect middle initials, transposed Social Security Numbers, duplicate forms—rather than forms not being transmitted at all. These errors are still an administrative headache for insurers and ultimately customers, but better than entire records missing, which could lead to people thinking they have coverage when the really don't. That, as Cohn points out, was a major problem when the Bush administration's Medicare Part D prescription benefit was launched. The Bush administration ended up contracting with a provider to act as the "payer of last resort" to cover immediate prescription needs of all those people, a potential solution here though the law didn't provide any funding for an eventuality like this.
The 834 problem doesn't seem to be worth reaching panic levels over yet, but there will be stories of snafus after the first of the year when people start using their new insurance and making claims. Which means that the administration and Democrats need to be prepared to answer them, even though at this point it looks like it won't be as disastrous as October 1's HealthCare.gov rollout proved to be.
Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 11:55 AM PST.