Federal Health Exchanges Are Behind Schedule, GAO Finds

Computer systems to help Americans gain coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges may not be ready on time, and training for the people who will assist consumers is behind schedule, a government report found.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still developing and testing computer systems meant to determine consumers’ eligibility for government subsidies, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said today. Plans to train “navigators” to assist people in finding new insurance plans have been delayed by about two months past a June deadline, the GAO found. The exchanges are set to open Oct. 1.

“Factors such as the still-evolving scope of CMS’s required activities in each state and the many activities yet to be performed -- some close to the start of enrollment -- suggest a potential for challenges going forward,” the GAO said in its report. “Much progress has been made, but much remains to be accomplished within a relatively short amount of time.”

The exchanges are the centerpiece of the 2010 law’s efforts to expand coverage for the uninsured, with some 7 million Americans expected to buy subsidized private plans on the markets next year. The Obama administration’s workload for creating the federal marketplace has swelled beyond what the law’s authors predicted as many Republican-led states have refused to operate their own exchanges.

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“This law has been unpopular and unwieldy every step of the way,” Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, said in a statement. “We are seeing a rollout marred by missed deadlines and incomplete programs.”

Obama Response

The GAO is the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress and its report today addresses the federally facilitated health exchanges that the Obama administration is setting up in 34 states that chose not to build the marketplaces on their own.

In a response included in the GAO report, the Obama administration cited the progress made toward building the exchanges, including accepting applications from insurers who want to sell on the markets and awarding grants and contracts for consumer assistance.

The administration is “extremely confident that on Oct. 1 the marketplace will open on schedule and millions of Americans will have access to affordable quality health insurance.”

In a second report also released today, the GAO found mixed results in creating exchanges meant to serve small employers. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., are building such markets on their own and the agency said they had made “varying degrees of progress” by the end of March.

As of March 31, states still needed to complete 85 percent of key activities required for those exchanges, on average, the GAO said. States may have completed some of the steps since then, according to the report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at anussbaum1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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