Enrolled But Not Insured

Obamacare enrollment numbers are picking up. But it remains unclear what percentage of enrollments are being transmitted correctly to insurance companies:

Bob Shlora of Alpharetta, Ga., was supposed to be a belated Obamacare success story. After weeks of trying, the 61-year-old told ABC News he fully enrolled in a new health insurance plan through the federal marketplace over the weekend, and received a Humana policy ID number to prove it. But two days later, his insurer has no record of the transaction, Shlora said, even though his account on the government website indicates that he has a plan.

Why this is happening:

The enrollment records for a significant portion of the Americans who have chosen health plans through the online federal insurance marketplace contain errors — generated by the computer system — that mean they might not get the coverage they’re expecting next month. The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials. The White House disputed the figure but declined to provide its own.

Sarah Kliff has been unable to get much information about these errors from the administration:

We don’t know how many inaccurate 834 transmissions went out. Three reporters — one from the Los Angeles Times, one from The Wall Street Journal and I — asked Bataille for information on how many of the 834s sent out so far have had an error. This is a question that I’ve asked on three previous calls, a point made by the Los Angeles Times’s Noam Levey as he asked for his second time.

This is where Monday’s media call started to get more tense than the dozens that have happened in the past, with reporter after reporter asking about the numbers of 834 errors and not getting a response from the administration. As The Wall Street Journal reporter reasoned, if the administration knows that 80 percent of the errors are coming from a certain bug — then simple math should figure out the total number.

Back in October, Laszewski explained why this could be a disaster:

[If] they fix the front end for consumers and thousands of people or hundreds of thousands of people being enrolled before they fix the back end, we’ll have a catastrophic mess. When insurers are getting 10 or 20 or 50 enrollments a day they can clean the errors up manually. But they can’t do that for thousands of enrollments a day. They have to automate at some point.

Last week, Ezra talked to Mark McClellan, who helped implement Medicare Part D, about this problem:

Come January there will be people who had their plans canceled by Obamacare but didn’t or couldn’t sign up for new insurance. There will be people who signed up for new insurance but their application got lost in the tubes. Some of these people will be sick, and interruptions to their care will be dangerous — not to mention widely publicized. “There’s is a 100 percent chance that this will happen to a nontrivial number of people,” McClellan, who’s now at the Brookings Institution, said. “So the Obama administration needs some kind of plan in place for resolving those cases as rapidly as possible and making sure they get the care they need.”