The new—and supposedly improved—federal health insurance exchange website is now open for previews in advance of another important enrollment period for the law.
The Obama administration relaunched Healthcare.gov on Sunday night, giving consumers a few days to browse plans before they can begin signing up on November 15. The open enrollment period lasts just three months this year as opposed to six months the first time around, and officials are projecting confidence that the site's disastrous launch in 2013 is fully behind them.
In a sign that the administration had made it to the "we-can-laugh-about-it-now" phase of recovery, President Obama even joked about the preparations for the new site last week. "We're really making sure the website works super well before the next open enrollment period," he said during his press conference following last Tuesday's elections. "We're double- and triple-checking it." (Democrats whose electoral hopes were badly damaged by the 2013 rollout probably did not share in the president's good humor.)
While the administration ultimately met and exceeded its target of 7 million overall enrollees the first time, officials are trying to entice Americans who were dissuaded by the website's problems last year and never signed up for a plan. The Congressional Budget Office projected that 13 million people would enroll during the second year, so the expectations for the exchanges were higher to begin with. The Obama administration, however, now believes that estimate is too rosy: The Department of Health and Human Services on Monday released its own revised projection that between 9 and 9.9 million Americans would sign up under Obamacare this year, explaining that the ramp-up to an eventual 25 million enrollees will take five years to achieve rather than three. "The next group of people will be harder to reach," Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said at the Center for American Progress on Monday.
Officials say the website can handle twice as much traffic as last year's version, and the initial browsing pages have been streamlined so visitors don't have to answer as many questions or submit an application to get an insurance quote. As for prices, the success of the program during the first enrollment period has drawn more participation from insurers in 2014, but the cost of keeping the same plan for a second year is likely to go up for many consumers, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Healthcare.gov launched during a government shutdown in 2013, and while the turmoil surrounding the Affordable Care Act may be taking a different shape this year, it is still present. The Republican takeover of the Senate will ensure a new round of legislative assaults on the law, and Obama has said he will consider tweaks even if he remains adamantly opposed to a wholesale rewrite or repeal of his signature first-term policy. And the Supreme Court's decision on Friday to consider a case challenging the federal tax subsidies in Obamacare adds more uncertainty and could raise doubts among potential customers as to whether they will receive the assistance they've been promised.
Of course, the Obama administration has been battling adversity on health reform since long before the president even signed the law. And as officials gear up for the new enrollment period to begin, they can take comfort in the fact that last October's failed launch set a pretty low bar for them to clear in year two.