US 2.0 Still Won’t Show Whether Your Doctor’s Covered

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The Obama administration’s newly appointed CEO is optimistic about the website’s ability to function this fall, but admits that customers still won’t be able to tell what doctors and hospitals are covered on exchange plans.

Kevin Counihan, formerly the director of Connecticut’s fairly successful state-based exchange, gave his first interview since landing his top-notch federal job to Bloomberg’s Alex Wayne.

Counihan talked a big game about the administration’s work on the federal Obamacare website — he wants to create “raving fans” of the government’s newest bureaucracy — but even a year after the botched launch, customers will have to contact insurance companies directly to figure out exactly what their plans cover.

And customers would be wise to do so, even though the process greatly slows down Obamacare enrollment. Obamacare exchanges in each state are still populated with health insurance that offers much more narrow networks than typical private health insurance — and customers are much more likely to have a difficult time finding a plan that covers the doctors, drugs and hospitals they need. (RELATED: Insurer: Obamacare Customers Must Break ‘Choice Habit’)

It’s Counihan’s stated goal to make the process of purchasing health coverage as simple as possible for customers. He thinks the administration has made progress, but the lack of transparency about products is sure to spark frustration.

“It’s a real priority for us to create raving fans,” Counihan said. “We want our service experience to be highly satisfying. We think the best way we can attract new enrollment is by satisfying the customers we already have.”

Counihan pledged that will be working much better than it did at launch-time last year.

Andy Slavitt, who was appointed as the principal deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs, has already warned Congress that this year’s open enrollment period with will once again be “bumpy.”

And Health and Human Services chief Sylvia Burwell, Bloomberg notes, would not say for certain that the administration is on schedule with its ongoing development on the website, in a briefing with reporters last week. But Counihan was more positive.

“Things are tracking as we would want them to track,” Counihan said. “Right now I would say we are doing well. I think consumers are going to be pleased, and we will be off and running.”

Part of the rampant problems with last year can be traced to the fact that the administration simply wasn’t ready in time but refused to delay Obamacare’s launch for political reasons. Not only was not completely built (and a full year later, it still isn’t), insurers hadn’t been given the opportunity to test out the website’s operations.

This time, Counihan reports that 25 major insurers have tested’s operations and have been pleased. All insurers will be able to test the website starting October 7, Bloomberg reports.

Open enrollment begins November 15, conveniently weeks after midterm elections. The Congressional Budget Office projects that at the end of the second enrollment period, 13 million will have coverage; Counihan wouldn’t name his own goal.

“I really don’t know what success is,” Counihan said about enrollment targets. “The focus is very much on keeping who we have and keeping them happy.”

CMS will be hard-pressed to both facilitate returning customers and attract new sign-ups. While the Obama administration will offer automatic re-enrollment for those who purchased a plan last year, changing benchmarks and rising premiums will hike prices on many who choose that route. (RELATED: Flawed Automatic Obamacare Enrollment Plan Likely To Hike Costs) 

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