Health exchanges set for uncertain opening day

Health insurance exchanges will open for enrollment tomorrow amid confusion and intense scrutiny, NPR reported.

While the government hopes uninsured consumers will check out new coverage options when the exchanges open Tuesday, healthcare researchers also will visit the online marketplaces to collect data on demographics, consumer behavior and premium prices, and analyze whether the technology works.

That still remains to be seen as both federally- and state-run exchanges have been facing technical problems as they prepare to open for enrollment. For example, a pricing glitch in the software that operates the federal exchanges in 36 states isn't accurately determining how much consumers will pay for coverage.

Adding to the confusion and uncertainty, about 80 million Americans still don't know anything about the healthcare law and may pay no attention to the exchanges, NPR noted.

What's more, 64 percent of Americans and 74 percent of uninsured don't know the new online marketplaces open for enrollment tomorrow, according to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And despite outreach and education efforts, the number of people who know about healthcare reform's subsidy assistance, Medicaid expansion and closing of the Medicare prescription drug "doughnut hole" have decreased since the law passed in 2010.

In California alone, 74 percent of people eligible for federal subsidies don't know or think they will qualify for the benefits, while little more than 50 percent of respondents eligible for California's Medicaid program know they can sign up for it, found another Kaiser survey, FierceHealthPayer reported.

Meanwhile, an advocacy group is spreading the word about healthcare reform and the new insurance marketplaces to homeless people in North Dakota--a group that has reached record levels and would be eligible for Medicaid under reform, the Associated Press reported. The North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People thinks the government's outreach efforts may overlook the homeless population and unintentionally prevent them from  signing up for coverage options.

"I don't think these navigators will be looking under bridges or along railroad tracks," Michael Carbone, the group's executive director, told the AP. "It's not going to happen if we rely on navigators alone. It's going to take cooperation from all agencies in the state to make this work."

For more:
- here's the NPR article
- read the Kaiser poll
- read the AP article