Technical difficulties: 'Broken' Obamacare website won't be an easy fix

A pamphlet for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, sits on a table at a branch of the Metopolitan Family Health network, on October 3, 2013 in Jersey City, N.J.

The registration website for the Affordable Care Act has had its share of problems. Reports of glitches have people doubting the effectiveness of the law. Today, President Obama gave a speech on how these problems will be addressed.

Sarah Kliff reports on health policy for the Washington Post.  She says she’s gotten feedback from people trying to purchase coverage, and they're pretty angry right now.

“I’ve talked to a lot of my readers and folks who are trying to shop for insurance who have tried upwards of 60 times to purchase coverage,” Kliff says.

Kliff says people are waiting for the moment when they can go through the application process, find out if they can get help financially and get to the point where they’re putting down a payment for an insurance plan. 

In his speech today, President Obama argued that while the website is having problems, it is not an inclination of whether or not the law is working:

"But before I do that, let me remind everybody that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website.

It's much more. For the vast majority of Americans -- for 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance through your employer or Medicare or Medicaid, you don't need to sign up for coverage through a website at all -- you've already got coverage."

Kliff said the much of the ACA's success rests on the effectiveness of the website, since Healthcare.gov and other state marketplaces are the portals  for enrollment.

"The idea was, 'We weren’t going to have people going into offices and filling out pen and paper and dealing with weeks of  mailing things back and forth,'" Kliff says. "That the website would be a smooth shopping experience. President Obama himself said it would be like shopping on Expedia or Kayak for a plane ticket.

Kliff says that if the insurance aspect of the law is going to work, then the website needs to work as well.  She called the healthcare.gov hotline to see what the experience of trying to purchase insurance was like, and chronicled her experence at the Washington Post's Wonkblog. 

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.
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My understanding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the health insurance marketplace is there are a few insurance plans offered called a platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and catastrophic. All health insurance plans offered on the marketplace must offer as a minimum the same set of services called the “essential health benefits”. The silver plans are the plans which offer any tax credits for which the person may qualify. The plan level guidelines are platinum is for someone in poor health, gold is for fair health, silver for good health, bronze for excellent, and catastrophic for persons 30 years of age or younger.

Platinum is lowest deductible and highest premium, bronze lowest premium and highest deductible. Several private insurance companies will offer the various plans to the individual. Inquiries about specific plan coverage or premiums to be paid are made directly to the private insurance company. The person should select a plan based on the network of doctors, services, and hospitals offered and not the lowest premium. Based on household income and family size, many people are expected to qualify for tax credits. If a person qualifies for a government sponsored plan like Medicaid or Chips, those will also be offered to the individual as an insurance plan option.

The “essential health benefits” offered by the Affordable Care Act includes prescription drugs, lab work and blood tests, preventive services like counseling, screenings, and vaccines, doctor and clinic visits, emergency services, overnight stays in the hospital, prenatal, maternity and pediatric services (including kids dental and vision), habilitative and rehabilitative services for persons with disabilities and chronic conditions, and mental health and substance use disorder services.

Persons offered insurance coverage through their employer can shop the health insurance marketplace in search of a plan which might be deemed as a more “affordable” plan. Open enrollment dates are October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. “Exemptions” from health insurance coverage are available for those that qualify. All of this information is available on the healthcare.gov website.

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