Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Feds have made 330,000 calculations for health insurance subsidies

WASHINGTON — Despite the technical problems plaguing many of the new health insurance websites, the federal government has delivered 330,000 premium subsidy calculations to people who have gotten deep enough into the system to find out whether they qualify for financial help, the Internal Revenue Service said Saturday.

The disclosure offers a hint of how many people might be successful in using the marketplaces, which opened Oct. 1 amid widespread technical difficulties.

But it is likely that the number of people who were able to enroll in coverage is far lower. Obama administration officials have declined to say how many people have signed up for insurance.

The websites are the main portal for millions of uninsured people to sign up for insurance under the nation's new health care law, which requires most Americans to be covered starting next year or face a fine.

The sites are supposed to allow people to easily browse prices, find out whether they qualify for Medicaid or government subsidies, and enroll in health plans that will take effect Jan. 1. But many were initially stymied by long wait times and frequent error messages, unable to even create accounts, and since then more serious problems have occurred.

Most problematic has been the online marketplace being maintained by the federal government, HealthCare.gov, which serves people in 36 states. The rest of the states are running their own exchanges and have had varying degrees of technical difficulty.

The information about subsidy determinations was released by the IRS because it is one of about half a dozen federal agencies that must verify information consumers enter on the marketplaces, also called exchanges. The agency databases are connected to state and insurance company databases through a complex network called the "data hub."

The hub is one part of the overall system that appears to be working well. An official with Kentucky's state-run exchange said 92 percent of its applicants have had information verified through the hub, according to a Department of Health and Human Services blog post Saturday.

The data hub was built by the contracting firm Quality Software Services, a Columbia, Md.-based company owned by UnitedHealth Group. The Obama administration announced Friday that QSSI would take on a new role as HealthCare.gov's general contractor, overseeing efforts to fix the websites' problems.

In addition, the IRS's technology supporting the health care law is working well, IRS spokesman Terry Lemon said. The IRS is receiving about 80,000 data requests through the hub each day, he said, and "the requests are being processed within seconds."

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