Health insurance exchanges, the cornerstone of President Barack Obama's health care reform law, will be ready on time for their Oct. 1 launch date, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
More than three years after Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, health insurance exchanges for the uninsured and people who buy coverage directly are scheduled to become available to consumers in every state next week.
With such little time left, concerns about technical problems, including erroneous pricing information, continue to dog the nationwide project. But a senior administration official, who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity, guaranteed people would be able to use the marketplaces to buy health insurance next Tuesday.
"We'll be open for business Oct. 1," the official said during a briefing with reporters at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House.
The Obama administration has never wavered from its insistence that the health insurance exchanges would be operational on Oct. 1 for the first enrollment period under the law, which runs through March 31 for health coverage that takes effect in 2014.
But as the clock ticks toward the debut, these assurances take on new currency. The administration had previously delayed other parts of the health care law, including its requirement that large employers offer health benefits or face financial penalties.
The beginning of the Obamacare effort to cut the number of uninsured Americans by an estimated 25 million by 2023 also takes place during a sustained effort by congressional Republicans to defund or otherwise upend the law. Resistance from GOP officials at the state level remains strong, and it's possible a federal government shutdown could begin the same day the exchanges are set to open to the public.
The federal government is responsible for managing at least part the health insurance exchanges in 34 states that didn't take on the task themselves. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia will have their own health insurance exchanges under Obamacare.
Echoing the president's own acknowledgements that elements of the health insurance exchange rollout will be imperfect, the senior administration official said problems would be corrected as they emerge.
"We anticipate that there will be bumps and glitches. We're very focused on finding them and fixing them," the official said. "This is really a sprint to what will be a six-month marathon."
The chief of one of the lead federal agencies implementing the law issued a similar assurance during a health insurance industry conference in Washington on Tuesday, according to The Hill. "Everyone is going to be learning this as we go forward," said Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The computer systems powering the federally run health insurance exchanges couldn't provide accurate information about what health insurance plans would cost as recently as last week, according to the Wall Street Journal. The report prompted concerns about another delay, especially considering poor public support for the law and widespread confusion about it.
Those issues will be addressed before Oct. 1, the senior administration official said. "This is a process that is happening iteratively for the work the federal government is running. It's happening as well at the state level," the official said. "You all should be very worried if we were not right now rigorously testing this and finding things and fixing them and rigorously testing again."
Officials from California and Rhode Island, two states that are opening their own health insurance exchanges, also pronounced their operations would be ready on Tuesday. In Oregon, however, officials said last month that consumers wouldn't immediately be able to use the state's health insurance website to buy coverage.