Filed Under:Your Practice, Regulatory

Exchanges off to rocky start

More than 2.8 million people tried to access the new healthcare exchange system from midnight to 4 p.m., Obama administration officials said today, more than seven times the maximum who had tried to access the website previously.

At the same time, officials of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) acknowledged problems with both the state and federal systems. Marilyn Tavenner, CMS administrator, declined to disclose how many had actually been able to sign up for insurance on the first day the health insurance exchange system was launched. She said the information would be updated regularly, but was not ready for release, despite repeated requests from reporters for detailed data during a 4 p.m. conference call.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need your help,” she said.

Tavenner also said Hawaii and Maryland had reported problems on state sites that had been ironed out by mid-afternoon. She said the combined sites had also handled 81,000 phone calls and 60,000 “live chats,” another system for people to receive help in accessing the system.

The U.S. is running the exchanges in 36 states, Tavenner said.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for insurance that starts Jan. 1, and until March 31 to sign up for 2014. She said the system was obviously going to have startup problems because it had been “completely reengineered, and the process was complicated and lengthy.” 

Tavenner spoke hours after President Obama said in the Rose Garden that the law establishing the exchanges, PPACA, is “here to stay."

He spoke after a government shutdown that began at midnight and which saw the furloughing of 800,000 federal workers, closing of public facilities, including parks, zoos and offices. It left 1 million government workers still on duty, but with no commitment as to when they will be paid.

Republicans shut down the government as a means of forcing Obama to delay the onset of the law for one year. In his comments, Obama urged Republicans to abandon what he called a right-wing “ideological crusade” to derail it, saying they have the ability to “reopen the government.”

As pressure intensified, Republicans in the House Republicans proposed that they take up the budgets of individual departments, such as for the Veterans Administration, one by one, and only refuse to appropriate funds for federal departments used to administer the health care law.

However, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who is taking the lead in articulating the Senate Democratic position on the shutdown, released a statement rejecting that strategy.

“The latest Republican proposal is a cynical one that pits important priorities against each other,” Schumer said.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between help for our veterans and cancer research. We shouldn’t have to choose between keeping our highway projects going and cleaning up toxic waste areas. And we shouldn’t have to choose between visiting our national parks or enrolling kids in Head Start,” he said.

“As we’ve said a thousand times, we’re happy to discuss how to fund the government, but not with a gun to our heads. Open up all of the government, and then we can have a fruitful discussion,” Schumer concluded.

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