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People sign up for health insurance information at a Covered California event which marks the opening of the state People sign up for health insurance information at a Covered California event which marks the opening of the state's Affordable Healthcare Act, commonly known as Obamacare, health insurance marketplace in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 1, 2013. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)  

California Obamacare exchange pulls incorrect doctor directory after patient outcry

The California Obamacare exchange pulled its online physician directory after patients reported being turned down by physicians that the exchange promised would be covered.

Covered California took its online physician directory down Thursday evening, the second time the exchange has been forced to do so. In mid-October, exchange officials acknowledged that the data has significant errors and pulled it, replacing it with an updated version in November.

The directory would allow customers to search for doctors on the California exchange, comparing physician coverage across different health plans, but the Los Angeles Times reported this week that many Californians had their exchange coverage turned down by the supposedly accepted physicians.

“While the combined provider directory was a useful service for many consumers, some enrollees located physicians thought to be in their plan, and subsequently discovered they were not,” the exchange said in a statement on Thursday.

As the pressures of Obamacare have sped up insurers’ efforts to cut their own costs, ever-narrowing networks are making it harder for consumers to access their preferred doctors, or any at all. The narrow networks allow insurers to shave down costs by reimbursing doctors at lower rates; doctors sign onto the plan with the idea that plans offering a smaller pool of options will earn them increased business to offset their low rates. Meaning, doctors must work harder to maintain the same level of income.

Covered California has struggled to even list the physicians that are covered by their insurance plans. While the exchange had claimed that the 11 insurance plans it offers cover over 58,000 physicians, representing 80 to 90 percent of the state’s doctors, consistent reports from customers who have been turned away raise doubts about the figure.

California Medical Association officials told the LA Times the problems are arising from incorrect data from insurance companies themselves. Insurers are leaning on doctors for giving patients incorrect information, according to the report.

Covered California will discontinue posting any directory until further notice. They will link to each insurance providers’ physician directory, but customers will not be able to search for physicians across different exchange plans.

“If enrollees find the resolution unsatisfactory, they can contact Covered California’s Service Center to cancel enrollment in their plan, and enroll in a different plan before the end of the enrollment period, March 31,” the exchange said.

Re-enrollment proposals could rack up some serious pushback for the exchange, however, given that Covered California hasn’t been immune from Obamacare’s infamous delays and glitches.

Covered California customer Scott Marshutz recently told the LA Times that he chose his plan on the exchange for the doctors available, but was denied by the orthopedic surgeon he’d planned on seeing.

“I’m wondering how many other people have experienced this,” Marshutz said, “and if it will backfire on the whole system.”

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