Obamacare exchanges nationwide opened Saturday morning for the health-care law’s second open enrollment period and it’s a big improvement from last year’s launch.
HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange that serves 37 states this time around, is working much better this year than it did on opening day last October. Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Burwell said Saturday that 23,000 customers have submitted applications so far. Compare that to just one person who made it through the system on Oct. 1, 2013.
Burwell also said that 1.2 million unique visitors had gone on the website in the past week to access window shopping features that let customers look at plans and prices ahead of time. A preview period was not available at all in 2013 and this year customers still only got six days to check out plans.
The administration had promised improvements to the website this year, after a meltdown on Obamacare’s opening day that could only be repaired by a “tech surge” months into the enrollment period. During HealthCare.gov’s first launch, HHS was running so far behind schedule that insurers were not able to test how the exchange was working ahead of time and the back-end of the website was entirely incomplete.
After unceremoniously dumping contractor CGI Federal and hiring QSSI as the new lead contractor, insurers were allowed to test HealthCare.gov before open enrollment began — although they had to sign confidentiality agreements in order to do so.
President Barack Obama also promoted the website from Australia on Saturday morning, although he did not acknowledge last year’s problems.
“On average, they’re paying just $82 a month for coverage,” Obama said. “For a lot of people, that’s less than a cell phone bill or a cable bill.”
The administration waited until Friday afternoon to release its data on premium information, which has been finalized for weeks. HHS released data sets with the plans available on Obamacare exchanges nationwide with premium and deductibles scenarios for each, but without any comprehensive information about average rate changes.
A preliminary assessment by Avalere Health looked only at the lowest-cost bronze and silver plans available for 50 year-old non-smokers. For that target customer, Avalere found an average 3 percent increase in the lowest-cost bronze premium in the 34 states who used HealthCare.gov in both 2013 and 2014, and a 4 percent increase in the lowest-cost silver premium.
Even though the administration is promoting a functional website this enrollment period, it’s downplaying its expectations for the number of sign-ups for 2015. HHS said it’s only projecting under 10 million sign-ups compared to the Congressional Budget Office’s 13 million estimate — even though it reached the CBO’s first-year goal of 7 million enrollees.