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From Health Law Daily, October 30, 2013

Sebelius accepts responsibility, rejects suggestion to extend enrollment period

By Paul Clark

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the House Energy and Commerce Committee on October 30 that the “vast majority” of individuals who want to purchase health insurance through HealthCare.gov or a state-based insurance exchange will be able to do so by the end of November. She also said that she was responsible for the “debacle” of the flawed roll-out of the federal health insurance website.

Sebelius rejected a suggestion that the open enrollment period be extended beyond the March 31, 2014 deadline. She said the website will be fully functional for four months starting at the end of November. She added that the open enrollment period is six times as long as the most generous open enrollment period. She also said that an extension would not help the health plans that are offering coverage through the marketplace. “It’s important for insurance partners to know who is in the pool,” she said. She also rejected a suggestion to waive the individual mandate for a year.

She said that the two weeks of end-to-end testing of HealthCare.gov before the October 1 launch date was not adequate. She later commented that none of the contractors engaged to build the site suggested delaying the launch past October 1. (The system was down throughout the period that Sebelius testified.)

Individual market. As in the hearing held by the House Ways and Means Committee on October 29, most Republican representatives highlighted stories from constituents who have received letters from their insurance companies that their policies have been cancelled. Sebelius noted that prior to PPACA’s enactment, the individual insurance market featured people who were “priced out, locked out, and dumped out” of the market. “The individual market has always been the wild west,” she said. Since PPACA was enacted there are 25 percent more insurers selling individual health insurance policies than before, according to Sebelius.

Other items. Sebelius said that to date HHS has spent $118 million to build the website and $56 million to fix ongoing technology issues. She added that there are no “built-in” penalties in the contracts if they are not fulfilled.

She said that information on the number of people who registered on HealthCare.gov or one of the 14 state-based health insurance marketplaces would not be released until mid-November.

CMS announced later in the day that the current system outage was related to the same problems that happened over the weekend with a networking component at Verizon’s Terremark, the company that operates the data center that hosts HealthCare.gov and its Data Services Hub. CMS explained that the Date Services Hub was working for the 14 state-based exchanges but not the federal site. At press time, a permanent solution to the problem was not in place.

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