Obamacare’s health insurance marketplaces go live on Oct. 1, but some of them won’t quite be finished by then.
People should be able to start shopping for health insurance on Oct. 1, the date set for the online marketplaces (also known as exchanges) to open in the Affordable Care Act. But once they find a plan they like, they might have to wait a few more weeks before making any payments. That’s because several state-based marketplaces say they’ll be busy finalizing the payment functions of the exchange after the website launches.
It shouldn’t be a problem—plans sold on the exchanges start on Jan. 1, 2014, so insurers just need to receive payments by then to begin covering people—but it’s yet another reminder that exchange implementation is happening on an incredibly tight timeline with little room for error.
Officials in Oregon and Washington say they expect to still be finalizing their exchange’s payment functions after Oct. 1. Sue Doby, a senior consultant at Oracle, which is building Oregon’s health exchange, says several exchange features might not be ready until Jan. 1, and the payment process is probably the most important.
“A lot of testing still needs to be done,” she says. “We have to prioritize what pieces of product and code can be deferred.”
Likewise, at Washington state’s health exchange, officials said in an email that they expect to have their payment functions ready during December, which is when the first round of premiums would be due for coverage starting on Jan. 1, 2014.
At least six other states are expected to facilitate premium payments through the exchange, according to StateReforum, which tracks exchange implementation. All of the 30-plus federally run exchanges will have insurers bill their new customers directly. That is one less thing for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to worry about, after a recent Government Accountability Office report questioned the Obama administration’s readiness to open the exchanges on time.
But even in states like Rhode Island that plan to have their exchange’s payment features ready for the Oct. 1 launch, there is an acknowledgement that it could be delayed, and officials say the state has done some contingency planning in case that becomes necessary. For example, when the consumer purchases a health plan, they could receive a message notifying them that their coverage will be contingent on the insurer receiving payment and a bill will be sent at a later date.
“Our intent here in Rhode Island is to have the functionality for Oct. 1,” says Brian Keane, who is overseeing the exchange’s technical implementation for Deloitte Consulting. “But we do have a contingency plan, and we may go to one of those other options.”
A state’s inability to process payments on Oct. 1 might delay HHS’s decision to officially approve the exchange, but that doesn't mean they won't be allowed to open. All 18 state-based exchanges are currently conditionally approved and must receive final approval from HHS, but can be launched with only conditional approval, according to HHS.
"The secretary can allow states to operate their exchanges under conditional approval while they finalize components of their exchange," an HHS aide said in an email.