HHS Watchdog: Millions of Obamacare Application Data Flaws Still Unresolved

Posted: Jul 01, 2014 4:22 PM

What happens when the back end of a critical federal website isn't built on time (and still isn't complete), so the White House is forced to rely on the honor system and logistical duct tape to piece together a complex and controversial enrollment process? Answer: Millions of data discrepancies, initial reports of which began surfacing in May, with additional details emerging in June. The New York Times reported several weeks ago that these errors and revisions could end up forcing "a family of four with an annual income of $80,000 [to] repay as much as $2,500” in miscalculated subsidies. A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General indicates that those flaws impacted millions of applications filed in 2013 alone (representing half of the six-month enrollment period) -- and that only a minuscule fraction of the problems have been resolved. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein explains:

Applications for insurance coverage through President Obama's health care law submitted in the final three months of 2013 contained millions of inconsistencies in which information such as income and immigration status could not be independently verified by the federal government, according to a June report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The inconsistencies may have resulted in individuals receiving an improper amount of subsidies, or subsidies that they shouldn't have been eligible for in the first place — something that could require them to repay the money in future tax bills...According to the HHS inspector general, applications submitted to the federal exchange in the opening months of Obamacare -- October 2013 through December 2013 -- contained over 2.9 million inconsistencies, of which more than 2.6 million, or 89 percent, remained unresolved as of Feb. 23, 2014.

The Associated Press runs that math:

The inspector general said the federal insurance exchange reported a total of 2.9 million so-called "inconsistencies" with consumer data from October through December 2013. Officials had the technical capability to resolve roughly 330,000 of those cases, but only about 10,000 cases were actually closed during the period covered by the report...President Barack Obama celebrated 8 million sign-ups as proof that technical problems which initially kept many consumers from enrolling had finally been overcome. It now turns out that some of those problems continued, only out of sight.

Democrats celebrated that "8 million new enrollments" figure in a failed attempt to improve public perceptions of the law. That number has always been highly exaggerated -- not accounting for duplicates, a substantial non-payment rate, a high percentage of enrollees who were previously insured, and applicants whose coverage may be disrupted by these ongoing data issues. The watchdog report stated that approximately 1.2 million additional "inconsistencies" marred applications processed through state exchanges. More: "During our review, 4 of the 15 State marketplaces reported that they were unable to resolve inconsistencies" at all, including some of the usual suspects such as Oregon. How many data snags have affected the millions of applications filed over the first three-plus months of 2014? The final number will almost certainly be significantly higher. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, reports on "access shock" issues that have cast a pall over "an otherwise successful [Obamacare] rollout:"

Limiting the number of medical providers was part of an effort by insurers to hold down premiums. But confusion over the new plans has led to unforeseen medical bills for some patients and prompted a state investigation. More complaints are surfacing as patients start to use their new coverage bought through Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange. "I thought I had done everything right, and it's been awful," said Jean Buchanan, 56. The Fullerton resident found herself stuck with an $8,000 bill for cancer treatment after receiving conflicting information on whether it was covered. "How am I going to come up with that much money?" … Regulators, lawmakers and consumer advocates are pushing back to ensure patients know what they're giving up in return for lower rates — and don't run into unnecessary roadblocks to care.

In other Obamacare news, USA Today warns of the "massive shortage of doctors" that is beginning to hit the United States -- a developing crisis that the law is exacerbating. Bloomberg has a handy explanation on why Obamacare premiums are increasing, one of the reasons being older and sicker risk pools (a problem that will ratchet up pressure on insurers after "bailout"-style programs expire).