A bit of bad information on the Healthcare.gov website may have dissuaded some would-be enrollees from signing up for health insurance.
The Philadelphia Inquirer uncovered the glitch that had a website calculator using outdated information on the poverty level. By Friday morning, the insurance marketplace website had made the fix.
The mistake may have led some would-be enrollees to believe they do not qualify for help paying for health coverage, when they really do qualify for government assistance.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services runs the insurance-shopping portal. A spokesman declined to do a taped interview but emailed a written statement.
Wrong information was limited to a website calculator designed for educational uses, a spokesman said.
“This tool is intended only to be used as an unofficial estimate that consumers can use before completing their application, which is where they get their official determination,” the statement said.
No one’s actual eligibility was calculated with the bad data, a spokesman said.
“We encourage consumers to complete their marketplace application, where they will get an accurate determination of their tax credits,” the statement said.
‘No way of knowing’ how many were affected
In the Philadelphia Inquirer story, an expert estimates that as many as 70,000 people—including 5,000 shoppers in Pennsylvania — may have been affected by the mistake.
“We have no way of knowing,” said Drexel University health policy expert Robert Field. “It may be that a lot of people got coverage anyway — that when the estimate came out that they didn’t qualify, they tried to go ahead and get coverage anyway or they tried another calculator.”
At one Philadelphia health center, which helps sign up the uninsured, the philosophy is to err on the side of caution and encourage everyone who walks through the door to apply.
It’s just not clear how many visitors to Healthcare.gov left with bad information, but people with incomes very near 100 percent of the federal poverty line were mostly likely to encounter the glitch. For a single individual, that would be people earning between $11,490 and $11,700 a year — or “so goes the hypothesis,” said Kate Kozeniewski, a certified navigator with Resources for Human Development.
Field said the mistake points out another reason that Pennsylvania should expand its Medicaid program.
Medicaid safety net missing in Pa.
“In states where Medicaid is expanded, no one falls through the gap,” Field said. “If you don’t get coverage, you will still get it through Medicaid, and there will be no one left out.”
“Given that we have expanded Medicaid, I don’t think this is a real problem here,” said Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate with New Jersey Citizen Action. “Throughout the process, however, we have encouraged people with any question about eligibility to seek out in-person assistance. Certified Application Counselors and Navigators would be able to get consumers to the next step.”
A calculator from The Kaiser Family Foundation seems to be a resource many people trust.
Kozeniewski’s job is to help people apply for coverage. When she sits with a client, Kozeniewski said she uses Kaiser’s tool to double check her work and the estimates from Healthcare.gov.
“I definitely feel for people who are going through it on their own,” Kozeniewski said. She said there’s been a lot of confusion and complicated rules that make it hard for people to “know confidently—’yes, I am, or no, I’m not. eligible for this.'”
Kozeniewski said she’s looking for more transparency from Healthcare.gov.
When a shopper is told he does not qualify for a subsidy, Kozeniewski said that “no” should come with a detailed explanation about why.
March 31 is the last day to sign up for insurance through the marketplace.