15,000 Obamacare signups didn't transmit, improvement seen -U.S

Mark Felsenthal
Cathey Park shows her cast signed by U.S. President Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston
Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Around 15,000 enrollment forms filled out by people applying for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act were not transmitted properly to insurers, but the error rate has plunged in recent weeks, the government said on Saturday.

The botched rollout of the Healthcare.gov website was characterized not only by the problems customers had signing up for health insurance, but by failures in the transmission of consumers' information to health insurance companies.

The web site relays information about new customers in so-called "834" transaction forms to the private insurance companies that provide the health plans. In the early stages of the plan, one in 10 transactions failed to transmit properly, the Department of Health and Human Services said last week.

HHS said in a blogpost on Saturday that the error rate has much improved, dropping to 0.38 percent of total enrollment during the week of November 24 to December 5. The error rate had been as high as a shade over 15 percent during the week of October 13-26, but has declined since then.

"These significant improvements are due to the technical fixes put in place by the end of November," the department said.

Most of the problems occurred between October 1 and the first few weeks of November when the system was experiencing widespread problems, the government said.

One insurance company official said her company has noticed the improvement.

Mary Beth Chambers, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, said the company had decided it no longer needed to follow up individually with enrollees to verify their information.

"The 834s are coming through cleaner," Chambers said.

The general contractor running the team fixing the transaction forms is QSSI, a unit of United-Health Group Inc.

HHS said it was working to make sure that every form, including ones in the past, contains accurate information and that consumers can sign up for the health plans they want.

"We're assisting health plans in dealing with inaccurate 834s as efficiently as possible," HHS said. The agency added that to ensure that "no consumer falls through the cracks," it is advising every person who has enrolled through the federal marketplace to make contact with their insurer.

Problems with the website and millions of cancellation notices sent out badly marred the launch of a program that is aimed at expanding access to health care and will be, for better or worse, a central part of President Barack Obama's legacy.

On Thursday, the administration asked insurers to be flexible with Americans trying to buy new health policies through the federal website in an effort to prevent disruptions in coverage for plans due to start January 1.

(with additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; editing by Gunna Dickson)