Healthcare Exchanges continues to face technical problems – Deadline extended for some

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, continues to face some technical issues nearly six months after the launch of Healthcare.gov. The health exchanges set up by the federal government faced several large-scale problems at the outset, but most of these issues were resolved after several weeks. However, a number of state run health exchanges have face more persistent problems.

Maryland’s healthcare exchange has faced numerous issues especially. From site outages to lengthy application times, many people in Maryland have been unable to complete their applications to receive a healthcare plan. These problems are important as the deadline to sign up for a plan under the Affordable Care Act and not be assessed the penalty tax is March 31, 2014. The condition of the healthcare exchange in Maryland is so bad in fact, that current plans call for scrapping the system entirely and utilizing the healthcare exchange software from Connecticut. The failure of Maryland’s online healthcare exchange is by far one of the more extreme examples, but it does show the risks involved with the creation and implementation of large-scale information technology healthcare systems.

The state of Nevada is also facing a number of issues with its own healthcare exchange, which was developed by Xerox. While it has not faced the scale of problems faced in Maryland, Nevada’s healthcare exchange issues have lead to a steep drop off in the expected enrollment numbers. “Last month Nevada officials cut their target enrollment from 118,000 to 50,000 and conceded that meeting even the lower goal would be a challenge.” Enrollment in these healthcare exchanges is crucial because there must be enough people in the insured pool in order to make the entire system work.

Enrollment in these healthcare exchanges is crucial because there must be enough people in the insured pool in order to make the entire system work.

In light of all these technical hurdles, the federal government is providing some leniency. As long as individuals “try” to enroll before March 31, 2014, then they will be afforded additional time in which to enroll. This new policy only covers healthcare exchanges run by the federal government, not the states.  At this time, this extension seems to be undefined to a certain extent. “According to a Health and Human Services official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about decisions that have not been made public, an exact time frame for this extension has not been set, and it will depend in part on how many people request it.” It will be up to the states to determine what sort of remedial measures should be put in place to deal with the people that were unable to register by the stated deadline.

Meeting the demands for health insurance in the exchange is a challenge unto itself. These technical glitches and outright failures only create additional barriers between people and healthcare coverage. It is clear that the federal and state governments have a lot of work to do in a very short time. More importantly, however, this should serve as a wake up call to future large scale IT projects.