Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's Official: Obamacare Website Will Not Accept Online Payments

    With all the other problems experienced by consumers at Healthcare.gov, actually making payments for plans selected has gotten relatively little attention until recently.  As the end of the year draws closer, however, the importance of making a payment to secure coverage by January 1 has increased.  As recently as November 18, a Healthcare.gov chat representative told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the site "may give you [the online payment] option when you complete your enrollment", but that "We are still experiencing some technical difficulties with the website, which is why it would be best to possibly go through the insurance company to make your first premium payment."
    Instructions at Healthcare.gov on making premium payments are ambiguous at best.  The following appears under the question, How Do I Apply for Marketplace Coverage? [emphasis added]:
Enroll. After you choose a plan, you can enroll online and decide how you pay your premiums to your insurance company. You must pay your premium by the date the insurer provides before your coverage can begin. Coverage can begin as soon as January 1, 2014. 
Despite saying "decide how you pay your premiums," no options are actually listed.
    However, a blog post at HHS.gov on Wednesday removed any doubt.  Payments may not be made through the Healthcare.gov Marketplace.  Now HHS says "you must pay your premium to the insurance company directly – not to the Health Insurance Marketplace."

    This recent blog post suggests that the "technical difficulties" with online payments could not be overcome, and so the option will not be available.  The government has repeatedly refused to respond to questions about the status of work related to an emergency, no-bid contract for "financial management services" awarded in August that would presumably handle online payments, part of the "back end" that HHS has indicated is far from complete.
    The federal insurance marketplace is not the only one experiencing problems with accepting payments.  The State of Maryland announced back on November 8 that since "[a]ccepting payment is not required of a state-based marketplace, and the Board approved deferring this option until after the core items are addressed."

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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