A total of 2.1 million people have enrolled in new health care plans through both the state-based and federal insurance marketplaces as of Dec. 28, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Tuesday. Halfway through enrollment, this number falls short of the 3.3 million members the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted the government would need in order to meet its goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of March.
Another 3.9 million Americans gained health coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program in October and November. Sebelius noted that the number of Medicaid enrollees represents both individuals who renewed coverage and those who are newly eligible for care.
Beyond publicizing the numbers, Sebelius trumpeted the work-arounds that HHS has developed to curb any problems that might crop up as the newly insured begin visiting doctors and hospitals following the Jan. 1 start of Obamacare.
"[W]e're committed to doing everything we can to make the transition as smooth as possible," Sebelius said.
Sebelius spoke of the White House's continued efforts to connect with critical players.
"We have regular ongoing conversations with insurance companies, and we've been talking with pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, consumer groups and other stakeholders across the country who are working to make sure people can access their new benefits." Sebelius and her staff are, attempting to quash any more bad publicity before difficulties surface. Specifically, the government is trying to avoid newly enrolled Obamacare members having to pay out of pocket for prescriptions because of missing health care identification cards or because providers received error-riddled claims that were never processed.
Some new enrollees may not get their insurance identification cards in time for a doctor's visit or to pick up a prescription, the result of multiple delays to the sign-up process.
Earlier this week, CVS and Walgreens both announced that they would offer short-term transitional coverage of certain prescription medications, even without an ID card, to those who have proof of enrollment in the market place.
The worry over incomplete data and sometimes entirely absent claims is a problem Sebelius and her colleagues have been working on for more than a month. It relates to a form called an 834, which contains an individual's personal enrollment data, such as the names of his or her dependents. Because of a glitch on Healthcare.gov, some providers received incomplete or inaccurate 834 forms or forms that were unreadable, reported NPR in late November.
In December, HHS began "hand-matching" individuals to insurance providers, according to The Hill.
Delivery of biographical data now seems to be working. "Since the beginning of December, I can report that missing 834's as a percentage of total enrollment has been close to zero," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. She noted that the government continues to manage "ongoing reconciliation" with health care providers whenever necessary.
"[W]hat's most important is to know that all of the issuers now have all of the data for consumers who have selected a health plan on Healthcare.gov, and they have been able to reach out to them directly and individually as well," she added.
Bataille said she does not know what percentage of Medicaid consumers were previously uninsured, nor does she know the percentage of people who have enrolled in plans that have also paid their premiums.
"This is all the kind of information that we will be looking to get at a more granular level over time and as we scrub our data and provide monthly enrollment reports we can look to have some of those kinds of things in the future," she said.
Bataille added that she is "confident that people have selected a plan and know what the next step is."