Feds prepare for ACA open enrollment with an improved Healthcare.gov

As open enrollment nears for plans offered pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, Healthcare.gov is making headlines again with coverage about how the new version of the federal enrollment website is better than the old. Despite the revamp, though, "things are still complicated," according to the Associated Press.

Where last year's basic application required people to navigate 76 online screens, this year's version pared that down to 16. That's good news given predictions that the upcoming enrollment period will be harder than last year due to potential double-digit rate hikes, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.  

The original website was crash-prone even with few users; but this year's version can supposedly withstand traffic of at least 125,000 simultaneous log-ins. Last year, customers couldn't shop for coverage without identifying themselves first. But this year they can window shop without creating an account.

Still, opportunities for improvement remain. For example, a recent Government Accountability Office report found that Healthcare.gov may still have information security holes. And the site's original Hispanic version contained "amateur Spanish, to put it kindly," the AP noted; but the revamped website "could still use a going-over from a high school Spanish teacher," the AP wrote.  

Though Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell declined to assure reporters last week that site development is on schedule, Healthcare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan said about 25 insurers have been testing the site's performance and have been pleased. Insufficient testing was cited as a major oversight leading to launch problems last year. 

Changes to the healthcare reform law may also affect Healthcare.gov's performance. Last year, open enrollment lasted for six months due to problems with the site's functionality. This year there's a three-month enrollment window. Last year's fines for remaining uninsured were $95; but for 2015, fines start at $325, the AP noted. And then there's the growing number of people expected to enroll for 2015: The Congressional Budget office expects that to total 13 million, the article noted, which is a milestone for reform but also a huge service challenge.       

For more:
- here's the AP article