Insurance companies prepare for their Obamacare deadline

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site.

The administration's self-imposed deadline for healthcare.gov to be "working smoothly" for the "vast majority of users" is Saturday, November 30. Since this announcement of this date, officials have taken pains to emphasize that it will remain a work in progress in the days after. But as the glitches that have plagued users attempting to sign up for insurance through the website are resolved, it may shift attention to the other major player in the healthcare exchange: the insurance companies. 

"Anyone who signs up on healthcare.gov ought to hit print," advises Tom Baker, a professor of law and health sciences at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania.

A more low-tech solution may be the answer if there are problems with healthcare.gov's back door: Its interface with insurance companies.

Earlier in November, Henry Chao, who oversaw healthcare.gov's technical development said some 30 to 40 percent of the project remained to be completed, including a system to send payments to insurance companies. Meanwhile, there have been reports that enrollment reports are arriving with mistakes, or not arriving at all. 

"Even if everything goes as smoothly as possible from this point, we’re going to have some of these problems," says Baker. "And it’s just a question of volume."

That volume isn't clear, though more may surface after January, when users who have signed up for insurance attempt to receive medical care.

"A few people are going to have data that’s not correct; Compared to the tens of millions of people who don’t’ have coverage right now, that’s a minor problem," emphasizes Dr. J. Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare, a managed care company that offers Medicaid and Medicare health plans on several state's health exchanges.

Molina is pleased with the progress the government has made on technical issues, and says Molina Healthcare is "more than ready" for the influx of new customers that he expects will come as we get further into the enrollment period. Nor is he overly concerned about starting coverage on January 1st for people enrolling as late as December 23rd -- a deadline that was pushed back by eight days less than a month in advance, leaving the insurance company with a little over a week to process its last filers by January 1st. 

"We process a couple million patients through our system the last week of the month as it is," says Molina. 

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a multimedia journalist in New York City. He has reported for NPR and WNYC, where he has focused on business and the New York tech scene.

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